Category Archives: Environment

How to save the world one gas station at a time.

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Look at a map of your city or suburb. Search for the gas stations, you know, those places where you can buy cigarettes and petroleum products?

Now imagine going to each and every one of those locations and tearing it down. We don’t need them any more anyway, because we’ve electrified transportation and nobody smokes. Remove the pollution (they are all brown fields, and the government will eventually be charged for this cleanup, so that is where you get your money for this). Remove the above ground structure, remove the pollution, then look at that vacant lot (and the other one one katty-corner across the intersection). Imagine a transit and school bus stop at this location, with an indoor area to keep the kiddies safe during the very hot or very cold days. Imagine a 20 car charging station, a small cafe, and the whole thing is covered with PV panels. (For the entire US that would be upwards of 15,000 mW of generating power.)

That transition would happen eventually, or something like it, but it won’t get far. Do you know why it won’t get far? Because in all its glory and brilliance, the free market is slow and shy and stupid. It will not figure this out fast enough, it will not deploy the changes in time, and when we are about a third of the way through the whole system will collapse because we are being too slow — and too slowed down by deniers and Republicans, Trumpers and Big Oil, dark money and deplorables — to fix it before it fails.

Or, Governors and State Legislators and Presidents and the Congress can just make it happen. Set up a program that buys out gas stations, cleans them up, and inserts them into the new power and transit system. Take care of the job loss, which will be offset by the increase in clean energy jobs, but make that offset work for the victims of progress. Oh, and probably sell lottery tickets at the cafe.

Can we do this please?

Thanks. Get back to me when the blueprints are ready, next week if possible.


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No, Michael Moore did not make a documentary called “Planet of the Humans”

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That was some other guy. The recently released documentary “Planet of the Humas” was written by Jeff Gibbs and Directed by Jeff Gibbs. See?

No mention of Michael Moore there. This is a Jeff Gibbs documentary.

Michael Moore does have a lot to do with this production, though. He is the executive producer, and he seems to be promoting it. But it is not his baby. It is Jeff Gibbs’ baby. We don’t know how much Moore was involved, or if he’s even seen it. (Well, he’s probably seen it, but did he only see it after it was done?)

Why is this important? For a rather sad pair of reasons. Here they are:

1) Trusted, sincere, carefully done analysis from several different individuals shows us that Planet of the Humans is not a good documentary at all. It borders on dishonest (if not charging across that border several times) and while here and there in the film there is surely an important message or two, the messages are supported with information that is mostly bogus, biased, some kind of balderdash.

2) Many people love and respect Michael Moore and his work, and a large number of individuals have, in my experience, decided that since this is a Michael Moore joint, it must be fabulous, and it must be true.

So, I say this to you, Michael Moore fan: This documentary sucks, but it is OK that it sucks. This is a documentary by Jeff Gibbs, not by Michael Moore. So, it is OK to pay attention to the many voices of critique. Indeed, as my friend Adam Siegel asked me earlier today: “Who is the real victim here? Is Michael Moore a victim of his friend Gibbs’ poor work? Does he know how bad this is? Poor man,” or words to that effect.

Speaking of Siegel, he is the one on-line expert who has gone all meta over Moore. He has assembled a series of posts, the most recent (on top of the list below) being the most comprehensive but all are worth a look, that put together the panoply of critiques of Planet of the Humans. Go read:

Moore’s Boorish Planet of The Humans: An Annotated Collection

Planet Of The Humans: Moore Trouble Than It’s Worth

Distributor pulls Michael Moore’s (@MMFlint’s) #PlanetOfTheHumans due to truthiness & errors

For #EarthDay, Michael Moore (@MMFlint) releases fundamentally misleading film

Sometimes less is more. In this case, Moore is less.


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Divestment in Fossil Fuels is Happening, A Little

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BlackRock Inc is the world’s largest investment management company. It is headquartered in New York City, handling nearly seven trillion dollars in assets.

BlackRock is about to move away from investment in fossil fuels.

Bill McKibben notes, in a piece in the New Yorker, “If you felt the earth tremble a little bit in Manhattan on Tuesday morning, it was likely caused by the sheer heft of vast amounts of money starting to shift. “Seismic” is the only word to describe the recent decision of the asset-management firm BlackRock to acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis and begin (emphasis on begin) to start redirecting its investments…By one estimate, there’s about eighty trillion dollars of money on the planet. If that’s correct, then BlackRock’s holding of seven trillion dollars means that nearly a dime of every dollar rests in its digital files, mostly in the form of stocks it invests in for pension funds and the like. So when BlackRock’s C.E.O., Larry Fink, devoted his annual letter to investors to explaining that climate change has now put us “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” it marked a watershed moment in climate history.”

Here is his letter

It is not a full-on divestment. For that matter, this might be greenwashing as much as anything else. But a major player in the financial market has declared fossil fuel and related investments risky because of the environmental damage they induce, because that damage is to be mitigated, and thus, assets are to be stranded. More or less. For example with respect to “Exiting Thermal Coal Producers” BlackRock says,

Thermal coal production is one such sector. Thermal coal is significantly carbon intensive, becoming less and less economically viable, and highly exposed to regulation because of its environmental impacts. With the acceleration of the global energy transition, we do not believe that the long-term economic or investment rationale justifies continued investment in this sector. As a result, we are in the process of removing from our discretionary active investment portfolios the public securities (both debt and equity) of companies that generate more than 25% of their revenues from thermal coal production, which we aim to accomplish by the middle of 2020. As part of our process of evaluating sectors with high ESG risk, we will also closely scrutinize other businesses that are heavily reliant on thermal coal as an input, in order to understand whether they are effectively transitioning away from this reliance. In addition, BlackRock’s alternatives business will make no future direct investments in companies that generate more than 25% of their revenues from thermal coal production.

McKibben agrees that this is that this change is not as powerful as it needs to be, noting that :BlackRock’s actual policy changes are modest compared with Fink’s rhetoric. At least at first, the main change will be to rid the firm’s actively managed portfolio (about $1.8 trillion in value) of coal stocks; but coal, though still a major contributor to climate change, is already on the wane, except in Asia. The companies that mine it have tanked in value—even Donald Trump’s coddling has been unable to slow the industry’s decline in this country. So an investor swearing off coal is a bit like cutting cake out of your diet but clinging to a slice of pie and a box of doughnuts.”

BlackRock is not to be congratulated here. This is not enough, and for much of the damage done, it is too late. The barn-door closers at BlackRock are still liable for being among the entrenched power and money brokers that have destroyed this planet for the future. This action will help the rest of us to rebuild our world a few decades sooner, and it may help some of them survive the turnover that has to happen eventually. In short, if you are an activist working toward divestment, know that your work is just starting, but now you have a new tool to use in convincing the complacent that there is a problem, and a partial solution.


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Climate Change New Year’s Resolutions

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Inspired by a post at the Northeast Metro Climate Action Facebook page, here are some suggested New Year’s resolutions related to climate change.

1) Normalize climate concern. When a relative or friend smirks at the idea of buying electric, or scoffs at the link between climate change and severe weather events, don’t sheepishly demure. Correct them. How you do that is something I can’t give you advice on, as it depends on the person and your relationship. But don’t let it pass, ever, in 2020.

2) Foreground climate concern. Don’t wait for Uncle Bob to say something stupid. Take opportunities to say something smart and poignant, or ear-catching and clever, or inspiring and helpful. For example, don’t just say “wow, I got 65 mpg on the trip here in my hybrid.” Add to that “That is equivalent to almost two thousand pounds of Carbon Dioxide.”

3) Learn something and tell something. There are multiple resources you can use to learn about both climate denialism and climate change itself. I’ve put some resources below. And, when you do learn something, be sure to mention it incessantly at every social event and opportunity. OK, maybe not EVERY one, but at least, now and then.

4) Take personal action. Each one of these, or sets of them, can each be considered a new year’s resolution. A few suggestions.

  • Turn the heat down, use less hot water, all of that. Get a programmable thermostat if you don’t have one already.
  • Insulate things. Every thing.
  • Get a home energy audit from your power company. They may give you free stuff, or great discounts, on LED lights.
  • Every light in your home should be an LED light. BUT don’t just remove the incandescent bulbs and screw in expensive LED bulbs in every case. Consider replacing built in fixtures with the new fangled fixtures that don’t actually take a bulb of any kind. Like this one.
  • Don’t automatically use warm or hot water when you do your laundry, and keep the loads reasonably filled.
  • Over time, replace all appliances that use gas with electric, and use heat pumps instead of traditional heating and cooling. This can save you loads of money, too. Remember this: There is no series of moral steps that lead to installing a natural gas appliance of any kind (including stove tops) in 2020.
  • Drive and fly less, replacing high CO2-footprint transport with less energy demanding ways. One long distance family trip in an airplane is worth a LOT of CO2. If your family does that every year, just stop it. Do it every three years or less, find a different, less planet-destroying way to amuse yourself!

5) Keep up the pressure on your representatives. Remember, a lot of climate related fight-backs happen at the state level, some even at the local level. Find out if your city is in any sort of program to its reduce carbon footprint (in Minnesota, it is called “GreenStep Cities“). If it isn’t, make them joint one. Join your state level environmental political group (in Minnesota, that would include the DFLEC, but feel free to suggest other choices below in the comments). There is a misconception that contacting your state or federal rep is meaningless because, either they are already on board and your message isn’t necessary, or they are totally against addressing climate change, so your message is useless. Neither one of these things is true. Anti-climate science representatives need to be pressured, and your contact is pressure. Pro-environmental representatives need to be able to say “I got a zillion calls and notes from my constituents, so no, I can’t compromise on this important climate related bill.”

6) Give a few bucks to candidates who support aggressive action on climate change. Then contact their opponent and tell them why they did not get your money. Do the same thing with campaign-supporting volunteer time. Hit the streets.

7) Change your diet sensibly and effectively. Clearly, eating less meat will reduce your carbon footprint. When you do eat meat, the smaller the animal the better with respect to carbon footprint. That’s easy. But not all diet decisions are easy. People may over-estimate the importance of local eating, especially if they are driving their SUV to the grocery store two or three times a week, and don’t go to the nearest store because it doesn’t have their brand of cranberry juice. It is not clear that there is a difference, or what the difference is, between organic and non-organically grown food. One of the biggest things you can do is to monitor and manage the food you do buy so that very little is wasted because you let it go bad in the back of the refrigerator. Americans waste about a third of our food this way. Resolve to develop an effective, personal, method to avoid this.

Learning Resources:

Books:*
The basics of climate change: Dire Predictions, Second Edition: Understanding Climate Change by DK Publishing (2-Jun-2015) Paperback

A long list of things that can be done by individuals, governments, corporations, etc.: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Personal financial decisions: Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know®

The fundamental political problem: The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It

On Line Classes:

Making Sense of Climate Denial

Climate Change: The Science and Global Impact

If you are in Minnesota, and want to organize a talk on climate change, contact me. I do one, and I work with Phil Adam, and he and I have multiple offerings in the area of climate change and energy, and there are other local excellent speakers I can put you in touch with. Church? Rotary club? Local environmental group or Indivisible group? Let me know what you need.


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Hurricanes may start stalling more, and that is bad.

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The tempo of storms has changed with global warming. A single storm that might drop X amount of water across a zone one thousand miles in length and hundreds of miles wide may now drop that same amount of water over a zone that is only a few hundred miles in length. Major floods in Calgary, Boulder, Southeastern Minnesota, Duluth, and other very wet rainfall events are now on record as examples of this, and the cause is quasi-resonant Rosbey waves. Continue reading Hurricanes may start stalling more, and that is bad.


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Do Not Miss Rachel Maddow’s New Book: Blowout

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Rachel Maddow is the Charles Darwin of Cable News.

Darwin’s most important unsung contribution to science (even more important than his monograph on earthworms) was to figure out how to most effectively put together multiple sources into a single argument — combining description, explanation, and theory — of a complex phenomenon in nature. His first major work, on coral reefs, brought together historical and anecdotal information, prior observation and theory from earlier researchers, his own direct observations of many kinds of reefs, quasi experimental work in the field, and a good measure of deductive thinking. It took a while for this standard to emerge, but eventually it did, and this approach was to become the normal way to write a PhD thesis or major monograph in science.

Take any major modern news theme. Deutsche Bank. Trump-Nato-Putin. Election tampering. Go to the standard news sources and you’ll find Chuck Todd following the path of “both sides have a point.” Fox News will be mixing conspiracy theory and right wing talking points. The most respected mainstream news anchors, Lester Holt, Christiane Amanpour, or Brian Williams perhaps, will be giving a fair airing of the facts but moving quickly from story to story. Dig deeper, and find Chris Hayes with sharp analysis, Joy Reid contextualizing stories with social justice, and Lawrence O’Donnell applying his well earned in the trenches biker wisdom.

But if you really want to Darwin the news, and sink your natural teeth and claws into a story, go to Maddow. Continue reading Do Not Miss Rachel Maddow’s New Book: Blowout


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“Am I going to have access to food or water when I’m 30?” — the question your kids are asking now.

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If you do not understand that this is a valid question, then you do not actually deserve to be breathing our chemically-altered air right now. No excuses.

Continue reading “Am I going to have access to food or water when I’m 30?” — the question your kids are asking now.


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The Mysterious Russian Nuclear Disaster

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Are you following this story from Russia? The Russians lied about it numerous time, and I don’t think we can expect them to ever tell the truth. But it appears to have been a test of a highly improbably weapon (a nuclear powered missile) that resulted in either an explosion that shoved a lot of radioactive material into the atmosphere, or an actual but accidental nuclear explosion.

A village was ordered to be evacuated. Then they cancelled the evacuation.

There is evidence that the bodies of the slain scientists, and/or others injured at the site, who were blasted in the explosion, were so radioactive that the doctors that attended to them also need to be treated. It also may be the case that the nuclear device is in the sea and needs to be recovered.

This is a real mess.


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Food Or War by Julian Cribb: Excellent new book

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For many years, scientists who studied biology, behavior, and ecology (under the name of various disciplines) looked at resources, including and especially food, as a major determinant of social structure in social animals, herd structure in herd animals, and so on. Then, there was a revolution and it quickly became apparent that sex, not food, underlies everything and is the ultimate explanation for the variation we see in nature. That pair of dimes lasted for a while, then the other penny dropped and thanks to key research done by a handful of people (including me, in relation to human evolution), it became apparent that there was a third significant factor, that ultimately trumped sex as an organizing force. Food. Continue reading Food Or War by Julian Cribb: Excellent new book


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State of the climate, 2019

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The year 2018 was warm, but since previous years had been super warm, it may have seemed a bit cooler. There was indeed a downswing, but only a little one.

However, 2019 is looking like an upswing year. It will not be as warm as the recent El Nino year, but it will be close, and it will follow the predicted upward course of global warming caused by our release of greenhouse gasses and the effect of those gasses on delicate and critically important atmospheric chemistry.

Climate Central has a a State of the Climate report here.

Note that the various predictions for the activity level of the 2019 hurricane season suggest an average year. The most common midpoint of estimates for the number of actual hurricanes is five, with 2 major ones, in the Atlantic. The long term average for those numbers is 6.4 and 2.7. However, the estimate for the total number of named storms is a bit higher than the average of 12.1, suggesting between 10 and 14 or so. We have already had one, before the official start of the season, but the Atlantic has been relatively quiet since then.

This Spring’s unprecedented flooding is of course directly related to climate change, and there isn’t a sane person on the Earth who doesn’t accept that as truth. You will have a harder time finding people accepting a link between tornado activity, which has been very high this year, and global warming, but it is also true that a) there has been a very well entrenched and active non-acceptance of that relationship for years in the meteorological community and b) it seems that having a few bad years in a row, as we have had with hurricanes, is required before enough people put their thinking caps on and think. So, I await a possible shift in position on tornadoes and global warming.


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Pipelines: Just say no

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Two pieces of news about pipelines.

From MPR: MN court says PUC didn’t weigh oil spill impact in Line 3 pipeline decision

In a victory for Line 3 oil pipeline opponents, the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday reversed the state Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the Line 3 replacement project’s environmental review, saying it didn’t adequately address the potential impact of a spill in the Lake Superior watershed.

Last June, the PUC approved Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 oil pipeline, which has been transporting oil across northern Minnesota from Alberta, Canada, since the 1960s.

From Politico: Trump administration seeks criminal crackdown on pipeline protests

The Trump administration is joining calls to treat some pipeline protests as a federal crime, mirroring state legislative efforts that have spread in the wake of high-profile demonstrations around the country.

Bring it on, suckas. Even a conservative federal judge has read the constitution.


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Did Voters Vote Climate? Yes And No

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Voters seem to have liked many candidates endorsed by environmental organizations, or who had good climate change related policies. But, they seem to have rejected ballot initiatives, in Colorado, Arizona, and Washington, that would have moved us closer to the necessary energy transition. Continue reading Did Voters Vote Climate? Yes And No


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