Tag Archives: Energy

Coal Mine Safety

Remember Don Blankenship? He’s this guy:

On Wednesday West Virginia station WCHS reported that the former Massey Energy CEO, fresh off a one-year stint in a federal prison for conspiring to commit mine-safety violations in the run-up to the deadliest mining disaster in decades, has filed paperwork to run in next year’s Republican Senate primary.

Here’s a refresher on the Upper Big Branch disaster (60 minues/Anderson Cooper): Continue reading Coal Mine Safety

Trump Ruins Everything For Everybody (but good news from Minnesota)

Donald Trump went into a snit and his babysitter wasn’t around to control him, so he barged into a meeting and slapped high tariffs on metal imports. The stock market suffered a mini-crash, and according to some experts, 2 cents per watt have been added to utility scale solar projects.

The tarrif on steel is likely to affect US Energy across the board, but the good news is that this could make some proposed pipelines even less viable than they already were.

The Republican-Trump tax cuts were supposed to be spread around to the little people, in order to buy their votes in November, but that may not work as well as planned. Some utility companies will not be passing the tax cuts on to their customers any time soon.

We now know that the de-assessing of large parts of Bears Ears Monument was nothing other than a craven act to get at this wild land’s oil and gas reserves.

Despite all this mucking around with our economy and the environment, falling prices of renewables has pushed this form of energy into second place as the source of power in Minnesota. Also in mInnesota, it appears that Minnesota has met its 25% renewable goal. Ready to move on to 50% in a few years, if we can only get rid of these pesky Republicans in the state legislature, and if we elect a pro-environment Democratic governor, like this one.

States Can Lead the Way on Climate Change

True that. In the US, energy policy and regulation happens much more at the state level than the federal level, and our federal government went belly up last January anyway. Some states will not lead, they will go backwards, but others will lead, and show the way.

So, here I want to highlight this new item in Scientific American by Rebecca Otto.

States Can Lead the Way on Climate Change
The Trump administration’s threats to abandon Obama’s Clean Power Plan and exit the Paris accords don’t necessarily mean all is lost

The word “corporation” does not appear in our Constitution or Bill of Rights. But as Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse notes in his book Captured, corporations had already grown so powerful by 1816 that Thomas Jefferson urged Americans to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
Today the conflict between the unfettered greed of unregulated capitalism and the right of the people to regulate industry with self-governance has reached extreme proportions. Corporations now have more power than many nations and feel justified in manipulating democracy to improve their bottom lines instead of the common good.
Nowhere is this problem more pronounced than…

Then where? THEN WHERE??? Go read the original piece!

Top fossil fuel producers caused half of global warming, third of sea level rise

I’ll just put this item from UCS here for your interest:


Study Finds Top Fossil Fuel Producers’ Emissions Responsible for as Much as Half of Global Surface Temperature Increase, Roughly 30 Percent of Global Sea Level Rise

Findings Provide New Data to Hold Companies Responsible for Climate Change

WASHINGTON (September 7, 2017)—A first-of-its-kind study published today in the scientific journal Climatic Change links global climate changes to the product-related emissions of specific fossil fuel producers, including ExxonMobil and Chevron. Focusing on the largest gas, oil and coal producers and cement manufacturers, the study calculated the amount of sea level rise and global temperature increase resulting from the carbon dioxide and methane emissions from their products as well as their extraction and production processes.

The study quantified climate change impacts of each company’s carbon and methane emissions during two time periods: 1880 to 2010 and 1980 to 2010. By 1980, investor-owned fossil fuel companies were aware of the threat posed by their products and could have taken steps to reduce their risks and share them with their shareholders and the general public.

“We’ve known for a long time that fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, lead author and director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “What’s new here is that we’ve verified just how much specific companies’ products have caused the Earth to warm and the seas to rise.”

The study builds on a landmark 2014 study by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute, one of the co-authors of the study published today. Heede’s study, which also was published in Climatic Change, determined the amount of carbon dioxide and methane emissions that resulted from the burning of products sold by the 90 largest investor- and state-owned fossil fuel companies and cement manufacturers.

Ekwurzel and her co-authors inputted Heede’s 2014 data into a simple, well-established climate model that captures how the concentration of carbon emissions increases in the atmosphere, trapping heat and driving up global surface temperature and sea level. The model allowed Ekwurzel et al. to ascertain what happens when natural and human contributions to climate change, including those linked to the companies’ products, are included or excluded.

The study found that:

<li>Emissions traced to the 90 largest carbon producers contributed approximately 57 percent?of the observed rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, nearly 50 percent of the rise in global average temperature, and around 30 percent of global sea level rise since 1880.</li>

<li>Emissions linked to 50 investor-owned carbon producers, including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Peabody, Shell and Total, were responsible for roughly 16 percent of the global average temperature increase from 1880 to 2010, and around 11 percent of the global sea level rise during the same time frame.</li>

<li>Emissions tied to the same 50 companies from 1980 to 2010, a time when fossil fuel companies were aware their products were causing global warming, contributed approximately 10 percent of the global average temperature increase and about 4 percent sea level rise since 1880.</li>

<li>Emissions traced to 31 majority state-owned companies, including Coal India, Gazprom, Kuwait Petroleum, Pemex, Petroleos de Venezuela, National Iranian Oil Company and Saudi Aramco, were responsible for about 15 percent of the global temperature increase and approximately 7 percent of the sea level rise between 1880 and 2010.</li>

“Until a decade or two ago, no corporation could be held accountable for the consequences of their products’ emissions because we simply didn’t know enough about what their impacts were,” said Myles Allen, a study co-author and professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford in England. “This study provides a framework for linking fossil fuel companies’ product-related emissions to a range of impacts, including increases in ocean acidification and deaths caused by heat waves, wildfires and other extreme weather-related events. We hope that the results of this study will inform policy and civil society debates over how best to hold major carbon producers accountable for their contributions to the problem.”

The question of who is responsible for climate change and who should pay for its related costs has taken on growing urgency as climate impacts worsen and become costlier. In New York City alone, officials estimate that it will cost more than $19 billion to adapt to climate change. Globally, adaptation cost projections are equally astronomical. The U.N. Environment Programme estimates that developing countries will need $140 billion to $300 billion annually by 2030 and $280 billion to $500 billion annually by 2050 to adapt.

The debate over responsibility for climate mitigation and adaptation has long focused on the “common but differentiated responsibilities” of nations, a framework used for the Paris climate negotiations. Attention has increasingly turned to non-state actors, particularly the major fossil fuel producers.

“At the start of the Industrial Revolution, very few people understood that carbon dioxide emissions progressively undermine the stability of the climate as they accumulate in the atmosphere, so there was nothing blameworthy about selling fossil fuels to those who wanted to buy them,” said Henry Shue, professor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford and author of a commentary on the ethical implications of the Ekwurzel et al. paper that was published simultaneously in Climatic Change. “But circumstances have changed radically in light of evidence that a number of investor-owned companies have long understood the harm of their products, yet carried out a decades-long campaign to sow doubts about those harms in order to ensure fossil fuels would remain central to global energy production. Companies knowingly violated the most basic moral principle of ‘do no harm,’ and now they must remedy the harm they caused by paying damages and their proportion of adaptation costs.”

Had ExxonMobil, for example, acted on its own scientists’ research about the risks of its products, climate change likely would be far more manageable today.

“Fossil fuel companies could have taken any number of steps, such as investing in clean energy or carbon capture and storage, but many chose instead to spend millions of dollars to try to deceive the public about climate science to block sensible limits on carbon emissions,” said Peter Frumhoff, a study co-author and director of science and policy at UCS. “Taxpayers, especially those living in vulnerable coastal communities, should not have to bear the high costs of these companies’ irresponsible decisions by themselves.”

Ekwurzel et al.’s study may inform approaches for juries and judges to calculate damages in such lawsuits as ones filed by two California counties and the city of Imperial Beach in July against 37 oil, gas and coal companies, claiming they should pay for damages from sea level rise. Likewise, the study should bolster investor campaigns to force fossil fuel companies to disclose their legal vulnerabilities and the risks that climate change poses to their finances and material assets.

How to clean coal

It suddenly became apparent, just a couple of days ago when President Trump was ranting and raving at a political rally, that the man does not know what clean coal is.

This is a concern because his entire energy policy stems from the assumption that we can mine lots of coal in West Virginia and use that for energy, that this is OK because it will be clean coal.

The term clean coal has been used in three ways, but really, is correctly used in only one way (number 2 of the three below), and when used that way, it is still bogus.

1) The term clean coal, or phrases very close to it, have been used by the energy industry to refer to their cleaning up of coal plants to have them put fewer nasty particulates and chemicals into the air. Clean plants produce clean effluence while burning coal. This is nice and all, but it has nothing to do with the fundamental problem that burning coal is a major contribution to global warming, because when you burn coal you take Carbon that is attached mainly to other Carbon atoms in solid form, and combine it with Oxygen, to make heat and CO2. The CO2 is the greenhouse gas.

2) The term clean coal refers to burning coal and somehow making the CO2 not go into the atmosphere. A method that makes the Carbon not become CO2 is essentially impossible because it is the oxidation of the Carbon that is the energy production process. You can not turn coal into heat energy without making CO2. It. Is. Not. Possible. But, some say it is possible to make the CO2 go away or not be a problem in some other way. If we were talking about a small amount of CO2, that might be possible. We could store it underground or something (never mind that this takes energy too). But for burning a lot of coal, for keeping coal as a major part of our energy policy, we simply can’t do that. You cant store away a gazillaton of a gas every year and expect it to stay stored.

3) This is the newest definition. This is Trump’s definition. You dig the coal up, then you wash it so it is clean. Then you burn it and everything is fine.


By the way, the photo above is of the harvesting of sea coal in Hartepool. That, apparently, was a thing.

Tesla Model 3 is Breakthrough Technology

The Tesla Model 3 will have a 215 mile range. Zero to sixty in 6 seconds, in case you ever have to do that. Seats five adults. Five star safety rating. Uses supercharging (so, if supercharged, charges in something like the time it takes to fill up a gas car IF you also use the bathroom, pick up a candy bar, there’s a few people in line …).

It cost the same as a lot of cars a lot of people buy: $35,000.

It is 100% electric.

You can’t have one yet, but if you really one one and work on it you might be able to get one by the end of the year. The first ones out will be distributed to their new owners Friday.

Trump, Perry, Energy, Climate, #Sad

Two items I know you’ll want to check out.

The ‘intellectual’ debate Rick Perry says he wants is already over

Last week, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told CNBC he considers his skepticism towards climate data to be a sign of a “wise, intellectually engaged person.” Yesterday, at a press briefing at the White House – it’s apparently supposed to be “Energy Week” – Perry used similar phrasing, calling for “an intellectual conversation” on global warming.

Four myths journalists should watch out for during Trump’s “Energy Week”

The White House has declared this to be “Energy Week” and is pushing a theme of “energy dominance,” with a particular emphasis on exports of natural gas. Three of President Trump’s cabinet members are out in force this week trying to spread misleading or false messages about energy and exports through the media.

“An energy-dominant America will export to markets around the world, increasing our global leadership and influence,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt wrote in a joint op-ed published Monday in The Washington Times.

Watch out for these myths:

Myth #1: Natural gas exports are good for ordinary Americans and the overall U.S. economy

Myth #2: Natural gas exports are good for the climate

Myth #3: Natural gas exports have been blocked until now

Myth #4: The U.S. can achieve “energy dominance”

The item at MMFA has the details.

NGS Coal Industry Documentary Free For A While

There is no free lunch, but you can watch a normally unfree documentary for free on the usual streaming networks for a little while.

Click here to get to the NGS site

From Hollywood Reporter:

Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, says, “Coal affects our lives and planet in important ways, but people often take positions on it without seeing the full picture. So this week, National Geographic is making From the Ashes available for free on a number of platforms. We encourage family and friends to watch the film and join the CrowdRise campaign to support organizations that are helping create new jobs in coal country.”

The film premiered earlier this year at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and then had a limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles before its global broadcast debut on National Geographic beginning Sunday. National Geographic will continue to roll out the film globally across 171 countries and 45 languages.

Bloomberg Philanthropies also organized a worldwide screening tour of From the Ashes, hosting viewings in several cities including Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, San Francisco, Vancouver and Washington, as well as stops in Brussels, London, Mexico City and Paris. The film has also been screened at more than 200 colleges and universities nationwide.

It is time to stop punching the hippies

The Republican line is this: Bring back coal, shut down development, subsidies, any encouragement at all, for solar and wind energy.

There is absolutely no logic to this policy, but it is in fact the policy. The reason for it is generally thought to be that the big rich corporations and individuals that control coal and petroleum resources, and that are fully engaged in delivery of those energy sources (and other materials, such as plastic bags made of petroleum) pay off the politicians to support their businesses. And that is true, they do this. But that does not explain why regular voters or grassroots “populist” supporters go along with it. Every other thing about how such folks think and act should turn them away from the big corporate donors. These grass-rooted populs should be putting up their own energy generators and cutting themselves off from the grid, telling Big Electricity to tread no more upon them. But they don’t do this. Rather, they go along with the Republican plan to repress the development of renewable independent energy production, which I like to refer to as the making of Freedom Volts, and this is entirely inexplicable.

In the broader context it makes sense, in the context in which the populs vote for the faux populist against their own interests. Voting for coal and against solar is voting against one’s own interests, by and large, even if you are a coal miner. But then, while we have explained the bone-headed approach to energy that most Republican voters embrace we’ve only explained one illogical process by saying that it looks and feels like a larger illogical process.

The reason the leaders and politicians that run the Republican party vote against the planet and in favor of the Koch Brothers is because the Koch Brothers and their ilk own them.

But, the reason the people who support those politicians, against their own interest, act like they do, is a matter of punching hippies. Some call it identity politics. That’s a fancy term, “identity politics.” Translation: “hippie punching.”

But recently, it seems like there is a move to stop punching the hippies quite so much. Consider the following quote, from a recent piece in Bloomberg News:

“Seventy five percent of Trump supporters like renewables and want to advance renewables. The conversation has changed. You have to have the right message. Talk about energy freedom and choice. The light bulb will go off.”

Those words were uttered by Tea Party organizer Debbie Dooley at a recent energy finance conference.

Indeed, we are seeing a pro-energy transition shift among the right wing generally. It is not at all clear that the current Republican White House, assuming they ever manage to do something that isn’t based on a night time drunken tweet storm by the leader of the free world, will go in one direction or the other on energy, climate change generally, or Paris in particular. Subsidies for renewable energy may be left alone. Promises to renew coal have already been broken. Paris may be kept intact.

(Make no mistake: Big oil owns the state department, science is fully under attack and research will be curtailed. These things are very real and very bad. But at the same time, there is strong evidence of waffling on just how much the Trump White House well end up hating on clean energy in the private sector.)

Congress is less uncertain. The Republicans in Congress are bigly owned by Big Energy and they will not change their stance at all. Or, more exactly, the only way the hoax huxters in the House and Senate are going to drop their love affair with coal and oil is if they are replaced.

I would predict a fight between Congress and the White House over this, but there won’t be. The Congress owns the White House and will own the White House until actual arrests are made. (Never wonder again why both the House and Senate investigations of the White House are stalled.) So there won’t be any real fighting, just a lot of counter productive and destructive confusion.

But long term, the hippie punching is becoming a thing of the past, with respect to energy.

Don’t worry, though, there are still plenty of reasons to punch the hippies. No one on the right wing need be worried that their favorite past time is going anywhere any time soon.

The Energy Transition and the Question of Perfection

I just read an interesting piece on the widely influential VOX, by David Roberts, called “A beginner’s guide to the debate over 100% renewable energy.” It is worth a read, but I have some problems with it, and felt compelled to rant. No offense intended to David Roberts, but I run into certain malconstructed arguments so often that I feel compelled to promote a more careful thinking out of them, or at least, how they are presented. Roberts’ argument is not malconstructed, but the assumptions leading up to his key points include falsehoods.

I’m not going to explicitly disagree with the various elements of the solutions part of this article (the last parts). But the run-up to that discussion, in my opinion, reifies and supports a number of falsehoods, mainly the dramatic (and untrue) dichotomy between the perfect and wonderful large-plant mostly coal and petroleum sources of energy on one hand with alternatives fraught with All The Problems on the other. Since this VOX piece is a “beginner’s guide” I would hope we can stick a little more nuance into beginner’s thinking.

I choose to Fisk. Thusly:

“Doing that — using electricity to get around, heat our buildings, and run our factories — will increase demand for power. “

It decreases the demand for power, overall. Internal combustion engines are inefficient compared to electric, to such a degree that burning huge amounts of petroleum or coal in one place to ultimately power electric vehicles in a reasonable size region is more efficient than distributing burnable material to all those vehicles to run them. Electrification is inherently more efficient and lower maintenance.

“That means the electricity grid will have to get bigger,”

Our grid, in the US and generally, in the west, is fully embiggened. Globally, maybe. That depends on if a “big grid” is the best way to deliver power everywhere. It probably isn’t.

[The grid must become] “more sophisticated, more efficient, and more reliable — while it is decarbonizing. ”

This contrasts the improvement of the grid with decarbonizing as though they were opposites, but for most of the expected improvements of the grid, improvements of the grid and decarbonizing are the same actions. They are not in opposition to each other.

“On the other side are those who say that the primary goal should be zero carbon, not 100 percent renewables. They say that, in addition to wind, solar, and the rest of the technologies beloved by climate hawks, we’re also going to need a substantial amount of nuclear power and fossil fuel power with CCS.”

This is a false dichotomy in my opinion. There is uncertainty here, of course. But let’s try this. Let’s try decarbonizing 50% of our current power without nuclear. At that point we will know whether or not to invest trillions into an unpopular solution (and nuclear is unpopular). If we need to, we’ll do it. If we don’t, we won’t. Maybe something in between. But worrying about this now, and using uncertainty to argue one way or another, is a waste of conversational energy.

“(If you shrug and say, “it’s too early to know,” you’re correct, but you’re no fun to dispute with.)”

LOL. But no. Rather, I’m thinking that it is too early to know and, in contrast, you are hiding a pro-nuclear argument in a blanket of uncertainty! Maybe you are not, but this is what such arguments almost always look like. Beware the nuclear argument wearing sheep’s clothing. A greenish tinged sheep, yes, but still a sheep.

“The sun is not always shining; the wind is not always blowing.”

Another falsehood. Technically the sun is not always shining on us, true, but as sure as the Earth is spinning, the wind is always blowing. People who say this have never been to the Dakotas.

It does vary in intensity and by region. So does nuclear, by the way. Nuclear plants have to be shut down or slowed down regularly for refueling. When severe storms threaten, nuclear plants are often shut down, and that is not on a schedule. When any big power plant suffers a catastrophe there is a long term and catastrophic break in the grid, as compared to a cloudy day, or even, a broken windmill.

The sun is up during the day, and in may places and for many times, generally everywhere, the demand for power is greater during the day.

Overall, this is a falsehood because it attributes perfection to the traditional sources, especially to Nuclear, and great imperfection to the non-Carbon and non-Nuclear alternatives. That distinction is not nearly as clear and complete as generally stated.

“The fact that they are variable means that they are not dispatchable — the folks operating the power grid cannot turn them on and off as needed.”

Another falsehood. First, you can’t turn a major traditional power plant on or off as needed. Indeed, there are already major storage technologies and variation methodologies at work. There are high demand industries that are asked to increase or decrease their use, on the fly, to meet production variation on large grids. There are pumped storage systems. Etc. The fact is that there is variation and unpredictability in the current big-plant system, it is a problem, and it is a problem that has been quietly addressed. Quietly to the extent that people making comparisons between traditional big-plant electricity and clean energy systems often don’t even know about it.

“As VRE capacity increases, grid operators increasingly have to deal with large spikes in power (say, on a sunny, windy day), sometimes well above 100 percent of demand. “

Yes indeed, and this is the challenge being addressed as we speak. Enlarging grid balancing systems, increasing storage, developing tunable high energy industries, and so on. This is the challenge, it is being met as we speak.

“They also have to deal with large dips in VRE. It happens every day when the sun sets, but variations in VRE supply can also take place over weekly, monthly, seasonal, and even decadal time frames.”

Yes indeed, and this is the challenge being addressed as we speak. Enlarging grid balancing systems, increasing storage, developing tunable high energy industries, and so on. This is the challenge, it is being met as we speak.

“And finally, grid operators have to deal with rapid ramps, i.e., VRE going from producing almost no energy to producing a ton, or vice versa, over a short period of time. That requires rapid, flexible short-term resources that can ramp up or down in response.”

Yes indeed, and this is the challenge being addressed as we speak. Enlarging grid balancing systems, increasing storage, developing tunable high energy industries, and so on. This is the challenge, it is being met as we speak.

The article mentions the economic problems. I don’t see those as difficult to solve but they are important, but I’ve got no comments on that at the moment. Read the article.

“The last 10 to 20 percent of decarbonization is the hardest”

Absolutely. And, know what? The first 25% will be the easiest. Do that now, and we’ll know a LOT more about the next 25% and maybe it won’t seem so hard after all. Maybe a major technological solution will come along before we get to that last 10%, maybe society will change enough that people will simply agree to having occasional reductions in energy availability. But certainly, the greatest difficulty and uncertainty is linked to that last 10%.

Our goal should be to have that problem soon.

“A great deal can be accomplished just by substituting natural gas combined cycle power plants for coal plants.”

Yes, if by “a great deal” you mean the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Before extolling the virtues of methane, do check into it further. I once thought methane as a bridge was a good idea too, until I learned about what it involves, about leaking methane, etc. No, not really a good idea for the most part.

“Natural gas is cleaner than coal (by roughly half, depending on how you measure methane leakage), but it’s still a fossil fuel.”

My impression is that every time we learn something new about leakage, it is that the leakage is worse than we previously thought.

“If you build out a bunch of natural gas plants to get to 60 percent, then you’re stuck shutting them down to get past 60 percent.”

Well put.

Do read the article, but please, keep in mind that it is unfair (in the context of an argument) to attribute undue perfection to one option while emphasizing uncertain problems with the other. We need to forge ahead into that uncertainty and speed up this whole process. Everybody get to work on this please!

Nuclear Industry Suffers Meltdown?

It is hard to get very far into a discussion of non-fossil fuel energy, and the energy transition, without someone coming along and yammering about nuclear energy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for inexpensive and safe nuclear power and for building nuclear power plants that promise to eat up all the waste, do not create any more waste, are totally safe, are affordable, are efficient, don’t require the equivalent of slave labor to mine the uranium, and are cost effective. Bring it on!

But the nuclear industry is generally troubled by the fact that this list of promises is not possible. Well, each item on that list can be delivered by this or that technology, but not all in one power plant. And, on top of that, nuclear plants are just too darn expensive to build.

Moments ago, Westinghouse Electric Company, which is owned by Toshiba of Japan, filed for bankruptcy. Westinghouse is a key player in the nuclear industry, globally. This filing is a very big deal, and may signal either the end to or a dramatic slowdown of movement towards expanding nuclear capacity.

And it isn’t just Westinghouse. From the New York Times:

General Electric, a pioneer in the field, has scaled back its nuclear operations, expressing doubt about their economic viability. Areva, the French builder, is mired in losses and undergoing a large-scale restructuring.

Among the winners could be China, which has ambitions to turn its growing nuclear technical abilities into a major export. That has raised security concerns in some countries.

The shrinking field is a challenge for the future of nuclear power, and for Toshiba’s revival plans. Its executives have said they would like to sell all or part of Westinghouse to a competitor, but with a dwindling list of potential buyers — combined with Westinghouse’s history of financial calamity — that has become a difficult task.

Why fossil fuel corporations killed us

Sometimes, when I look at the things the Republicans and their leader, Donald Trump, are doing, I think of that poignant line in so many actual and fictional moments: “You have killed me.”

Someone says that because the killing is done, but they are not yet dead. The knife is driven deep, the car is heading for the cliff, the contract killer is closing in. Then the person dies, but not before they get to say, “You killed me.”

Today, I look at Donald Trump, the Koch Brothers, Rex Tillerson, the petroleum industry, the Heartland institute. They didn’t kill me, but they have killed my daughter, and they have killed my son.

And I wonder, why the hell did they do that?

Wondering leads to thoughts, and thoughts lead to blog commentary, so this:

ExxonMobil, to take one example, made a very significant mistake and essentially killed themselves as a corporation. They did this by choosing to not shift their corporate activities to follow, if not actually lead, in the energy transition that is absolutely required if our global civilization is expected to survive into the future, decades hence. ExxonMobil and the other petroleum corporations can not exist 100 years from now, though they could have made decisions over recent decades to ensure that they do.

I’m reminded of my deceased mentor’s comments (before he ceased) on patrilines. Irv Devore, when discussing patriliniality and kinship systems, would note that patrilines and corporations, unlike people, are expected to exist for all eternity, or at least, up until the day they stop existing. Once you grasp that idea, it is possible to understand why either does what they do. An elder man in a patrilineal kinship-based society will go to great lengths to preserve the patriline. The very strong often heinous preference for male over female children is part of this. Since only sons carry on the patriline, too many daughters are a threat. Infanticide of daughters is therefore significantly more common than infanticide of sons. And so on.

(Hell. My writing is interrupted by an Amber Alert. An ex-boyfriend stabbed the mother of his son, took off with the son. A male associate assisted. Long life the patriarchy. Fuck the patriarchy.


But I ever so slightly digress…)

This should mean that decisions by corporations are made with very long term consequences in mind. When ExxonMobil and the other Big Oil corporations realized, in the 1980s, that continued use of fossil fuel would eventually a) be curtailed by regulation and/or b) cause the end of civilization and thus corporations, they should have started on plans to change what they do. A big energy company could have developed non-fossil fuel burnable materials, they could have muscled their way into the electricity industry, figuring that electric motors, already the preferred means of running a lot of machines that could have been run with IC engines, were part of the future. They could have done a lot of things to usher in a new age of reduced fossil fuel use and expanded use of other energy sources.

But no. They didn’t. Instead, they’ve killed us.

They, the big energy companies, the corporate sycophant-parasites known as Republicans, and their allies and puppets like the Heartland Institute and others chose to kill us all rather than do the right thing.

So why would someone like Rex Tillerson, when he was CEO of a major oil company, make decisions like this?

A lot of you will say: they do it for the short term profits, for the quarterly earnings report, because the corporation is beholden to the stockholder, etc. etc.

I do not disagree with any of that, all of that is true. But, there is another element that I think needs to be considered.

Even though all those reasons are true, there is something else that should be going on, and that in fact HAPPENS ALL THE TIME in other corporations. Not all corporations fail to consider the long term. Leaders of many corporations make decisions that positively affect the long term. They recognize that short term reduction in earnings can have long term positive effects on earnings. They choose sensible investment in the future, in all the future quarterly earnings.

But in some industries, I suggest, this is much less likely because of the interplay between risk and compensation.

If you run a company that makes shirts, nothing is going to happen in your corporation that causes the entire world to suddenly focus on you as the person in charge of a deadly disaster. Well, OK, in the past that did happen for shirt companies now and then, but not any longer. But if you run a company with offshore rigs, chemical factories, refineries, giant ships full of oil, a fleet of passenger carriers, and so on, then there is a risk of a sudden and singular disaster that will attract everyone’s attention, cost hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, and that may become truly notorious. Bhopal, Exxon Valdez, Deep Water Horizon. Unforgettable disasters.

(I think we actually do forget about some of the disasters, if they are in a category with frequent events over decadal times scales. So, even if you don’t remember Tenerife, you know that plane crashes are bad.)

If you are a Rex Tillerson in charge of an ExxonMobil, or the CEO of any of these high risk corporations, there is a distinct possibility that you will wake up one morning to the news that a chemical leak in one of your factories just killed thousands of townspeople, with thousands more to have permanent debilitating injuries. You might be informed, just before picking up your bonus check, that one of your ships ran ashore and dumped 41 thousand cubic meters of crude oil on a formerly pristine natural coastline. You might get the news just before going to bet that one of your off shore rigs has exploded and is burning, eleven dead, three months of oil blowing into the sea, the worst environmental disaster ever, and on your watch. Or perhaps you’ll learn that one of your aircraft just colided with another at an obscure airport in the Canary Islands, and nearly 600 died in the fiery crash.

Most of us would be able to live for years off of a single year’s salary of any of the top CEOs in the oil industry. And, by years, I mean hundreds of years. But from the CEO’s point of view, the relevant balance is between getting a huge salary and bonus this year, allowing one to never have to work a day again, to cover high end living expenses for the whole family and their offspring, vs. the long term health of a corporation that might fire you at any day if something really terrible goes wrong.

Why would a corporate executive choose to stop earning an income forever? Well, if your company kills a few thousand people or destroys a major habitat under your watch, you might not be working for a while.*

The bottom line: In an industry that can spit out major career ending disasters, the foresight of corporate leaders becomes myopic, and long term prospects become invisible, much more easily than in most corporations. This strongly biases the already myopic focus on short term earnings reports. The result: corporate, or any, sustainability goes out the window.

It is ironic that the biggest petroleum related disaster ever was the sinking of a rig named Deepwater Horizon. There is nothing deep about the time horizon considered by Big Oil. Yes, that is because of the quarterly report fetish, but the mitigation of short term thinking is obviated by the grotesquely imbalanced comparison of likely disaster vs. outlandish salary and bonuses.

FYI: The top paid oil company execs get between 15 and 150 a year in salary, and between 4 and 10 extra in bonuses.


*Note: People in charge of major corporations when there is a major disaster don’t necessarily lose their jobs or become unhirable. But it does affect them. Lawrence Rawl was in charge of Exxon when the Exxon Valdez crashed into Alaska, and he was criticized for badly handling the response. He kept his job for four more years and retired, and I don’t know if he got very many more bonuses. But, he is officially “known for the Exxon Valdez spill.” That is his legacy. Warren Anderson was in charge of Union Carbide when Bhopal happened. He was charged with manslaughter. He remains a fugitive. Other higher ups in the Indian part of that company were tried and convicted of various charges. Tony Hayward, CEO of BE at the time of Deepwater Horizon, was not fired but then was replaced, and that disaster and his handling of it has left him a very controversial figure. He is dogged by protestors and companies and institutions that have anything to do with him find themselves shunned. So, no, this is not a simple formula: I will be fired if there is a disaster. But there are consequences, and I suspect, a perception of fear of consequences is very real.

Examples of “You killed me”:

Should you buy an electric car if you live in a coal state?

If most of the electricity used to charge your electric car is made by burning coal, is it still worth it, in terms of CO2 release, to buy an electric car?

Yes. And you will also save money on fuel.

Don’t believe me? Want me to show you? What, are you from Missouri or something? Fine. I’ll show you.

A few years ago, when there were no affordable electric cars that were real cars, we decided to look into buying the next best thing, a hybrid. We wanted to get the Toyota Prius because it looked like a good car, had long proven technology, and all the people we knew who had one were happy with theirs.

I mentioned this to an acquaintance, also noting that I expected that we would save money on fuel. His response was that we would never save as much money on reduced fuel use to justify the extra cost of this expensive car. Just look in any car magazine, he said. They all make this comparison in one issue or another, he said. You are crazy to do this, he said.

I disagreed with him about the crazy part. Failing to do something that you can afford to do that would decrease fossil CO2 emissions was the crazy decision. You know, given the end of civilization because of climate change, and all. But, I was concerned that we would simply not be able to afford to do it, so I resolved to look more closely into the costs and benefits.

Sure enough, it was easy to find an article in a car magazine that analyzed the difference between buying a new internal combustion engine car vs. a Prius, and that analysis clearly showed that there wouldn’t be much of a savings, and that we could lose as much as $500 a year. Yes, each year, the Prius would save gas money, but over a period of several years, the number would never add up to the thousands of dollars extra one had to spend to get the more expensive car. Buy the internal combustion care, they said.

But the article said something else about “green energy” cars that set off an alarm. It said that cars like electric cars would never catch on because they were quiet. Everybody likes the sound of the engine, especially when accelerating past some jerk on the highway, even in a relatively quiet and sedate car like a Camry.

Aha, I thought. This article is not about making rational decisions, or decisions that might be good for the environment. It is about something else entirely.

Hippie punching.

Then I thought about my acquaintance who had suggested that the Prius was a bad idea. And the hippie punching theory fell neatly into place.

So, I continued my quest for information and wisdom. I learned years ago that when you want to buy something expensive, contact a seller that you are unlikely to buy from to ask a few questions. Don’t take up too much of their time, but start your inquiry with a business that sells the product you want, but that you will walk away from in a few minutes. That lets you discover what the patter in that industry is like, what the game is, how they talk to you and what you don’t necessarily know, without it costing you dumb-points along the way. This way, when you talk to the more likely seller (in this case, the Toyota dealership on my side of town, instead of the other side of town) you are one up on the other noobs making a similar inquiry.

So I made the call, and said, “I’m really just interested in trying to decide if the Prius is worth it, given the extra cost, in terms of money saved on fuel.”

“OK, well, it often isn’t, to be honest. And I won’t lie to you. I sell the Prius and I sell non-hybrids, and I’ll be happy to sell you either one.”

Good point, I thought. He doesn’t care. Or, maybe, he just tricked me into thinking he doesn’t care! No matter, though, because I’ve already out smarted this car dealer with my “call across town first” strategy.

As these thoughts were percolating in my head, he said, “So, it really depends on the numbers. So let’s make a comparison. What car would you be buying if you didn’t get the Prius?”

“Um… actually, it would definitely be a Subaru Forester. That’s the car we are replacing, and we love the Forester. No offense to Toyota, of course…”

“Well,” he interrupted. “Everybody loves the Forester. But, it does cost several thousand dollars more than the Prius. So, I’d say, you’d save money with the Prius.”


We bought the Prius. From him.

And now the Prius is getting older. It is still like totally new, and it will be Car # 1 for a couple of more years, I’m sure. But as the driver of Car #2 (an aging Forester) I am looking forward to my wife getting a new car at some point so we can further reduce CO2 emissions, and I don’t have to have a car, for my rare jaunt, that is likely to need a towing.

And, when I look around me, and ask around, and predict the future a little, I realize that by the time we are in the market for a new car, there will be electric cars in the same price range of that Prius, if not cheaper. So, suddenly, buying an electric car is a possibility.

And, of course, the hippie-punching argument that we will have to deal with is this: Coal is worse than gasoline, and all your electricity for your hippie-car is made by burning coal, so you are actually destroying the environment, not saving it, you dirty dumb hippie!

There are several reasons that this argument is wrong. They are listed below, and do read them all, but the last one is the one I want you to pay attention to because it is the coolest, and I’ve got a link to where you can go to find the details that prove it.

1) Even if we live in a state that uses a lot of coal to make electricity, eventually that will change. Of course, my car might be old and in the junk yard by then, so maybe it is still better to wait to by the electric car. But in a state like Minnesota, we are quickly transitioning away from coal, and in fact, the big coal plant up Route 10 a ways, that makes the electricity for my car (if I had an electric car), is being shut down as we speak.

2) Even if the electric car is a break even, or a small net negative on carbon release, it is still good, all else being nearly equal, to support the energy transition by buying an electric car and supporting that segment of the industry.

3) It is more efficient, measured in terms of fossil CO2 release, to burn a little coal to transmit electricity to an electric car than it is to ship the gasoline to the car and burn the gasoline in the car. This sound opposite from reality, and many make the argument that making the burning happen in your car is more efficient than in a distant plant, but that is not ture. While this will depend on various factors, and burning gas may be better sometimes, it often is not because the basic technology of using electricity driven magnetic energy is so vastly more efficient than the technology of using countless small controlled explosions to mechanically drive the wheels. Electric motors are so much more efficient than exploding liquid motors that trains, which are super efficient, actually use their diesel fuel to generate electricity to run their electric motors, rather than to run the wheels of the train.

4) Reason 3 assumes an efficiency difference between internal combustion and magnetics that overwhelms all the other factors, but it is hard to believe this would work in a mostly coal-to-electricity setting. But there is empirical evidence, which probably reveals the logic of reason number 3, but that I list as reason number 4 because it is based on observation rather than assumption. If you measure the difference between an internal combustion engine and an electric engine in a coal-heavy state, you a) save money and b) release less CO2.

And to get that argument, the details, the proof, GO HERE to see How Green is My EV?, a tour de force of logic and math, and empirical measurement, by David Kirtley, in which David measures the cost and CO2 savings of his Nissan Leaf, in the coal-happy state of Missouri.

I’ll put this another way. The best way to be convinced that an electric car is a good idea in a state where most electricity is generated by burning coal is if someone shows you the evidence. Where better to examine this evidence than in the Shoe Me State of Missouri???

So go and look.