Renewable Energy’s Secret

The title is from an article in the Denver Post published in November 2015 which described bird deaths from the Iyanpah Solar Generating System in the Mojave Desert and wind turbines in Central California’s Altamont Pass. The article describes how two scientists published accounts of very large numbers of birds being incinerated when flying into the area of the solar system or killed when flying into the path of the wind turbines. A concerted effort was made by alternative energy companies to dismiss the data based on the accusation it was the result of “data dredging—teasing out statistical patterns that may not exist.”

A recent news report makes me suspicious there might have been some truth in the data presented by the two scientists. “The Obama administration is revising a federal rule that allows wind-energy companies to operate high-speed wind turbines for up to 30 years, even if it means killing or injuring thousands of federally protected bald and golden eagles…Under the plan…wind companies and other power providers could kill or injure up to 4,200 bald eagles a year without penalty—nearly four times the current limit. Golden eagles could be killed (apparently without limits) if companies take steps to minimize the losses…” The Fish and Wildlife Service Director said the proposal would “…provide a path forward for maintaining eagle populations while also spurring development of a pollution-free energy source that’s intended to ease global warming… (and) help the country reduce its reliance on fossil fuels such as coal and oil that contribute to global warming.”

I find it quite curious that the government is proposing allowing environmental damage to address environmental damage.

Global Warming Saves the Planet

I’ve been entertained by recent articles that the increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has prevented an ice age. Just guessing, but I predict most scientists and other citizens would vote for global warming if the choice was an ice age. Warming and increased carbon dioxide results in increased crop yields and more robust growth of trees while freezing results in poor or non-existent crop yields and people dying at higher rates from cold and starvation.

One explanation for why global warming has saved us is associated with something called the Milankovitch cycle. To avoid getting into tedious technical details, the cycle refers to how changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun changes, which also causes changes to the amount of sunlight received by the earth. (To state the obvious, the primary source of global warming is sunlight.) Citation needed (I admit that I copied the idea of using “citation needed” when an statement is made about an obvious fact from Randall Munroe’s excellent book “What If,” which I recently reviewed.)

To be “fair and balanced” there have been articles disputing the accuracy of claims that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been good. I was confused by articles that referred to sun spots causing aberrations instead of discussing the Milankovitch cycle, but then again, I’m not a trained climate expert.

I’ve noticed that there has been a scramble to explain why global temperatures didn’t continue to rise after 1998, even though 2014 might have broken that trend. One explanation is that the oceans are storing the excess heat. Now we have to consider something called Milankovitch cycles or sun spots.

I just checked the National Snow and Ice center’s report on Arctic sea ice, and the ice coverage for 2014 bounced around the average coverage for 2011-2012. It has recently just dipped slightly below that average line. Wasn’t the ice supposed to be gone by now?

For those new to this debate, I assure you I believe climate change is real as supported by the fact that the climate has always changed. Citation needed

Electric Cars Spur Demand for Coal Power

The Washington Post published an interesting article about Rotterdam, Netherlands needing to build three new coal-fired power plants to recharge the electric vehicles as gasoline and diesel powered vehicles are being banned. The electric cars bought with generous tax incentives “…jostle for space at charging stations.” The article mentions that one recharge takes as much electricity as used by the average refrigerator in a month and a half. Coal provided 29 percent of the country’s electricity in 2014, and forecasts are that number won’t change by 2030. Efforts to ban coal generators have fallen to the cheap price of coal.

It costs about $20 to recharge a Tesla for a 250 mile range, which is cheaper than the cost of refueling with hydrocarbons. The Union of Concerned Scientists calculated that a gasoline powered car in Colorado that gets 34 miles to the gallon or more would be better for emissions than the average electric car. In New York, where hydroelectric is a major source of electricity, the gasoline powered car would have to get 112 miles per gallon to be equal.

The Union of Concerned Scientists issued a rebuttal article stating that their calculations show that driving an electric vehicle anywhere in the U.S. is a better choice. It states that over two-thirds of Americans “…live in areas where an average EV (electric vehicle) is better than the most efficient hybrid gasoline vehicle on the market. Based on today’s sales, the average EV in the U.S. has emissions equivalent to a gasoline car getting 68 MPG.”

It is interesting to see this issue being debated. It sometimes seems the people driving electric vehicles might not realize the electricity has to come from somewhere. For the people in the alternative energy conscious people of Rotterdam, about a third of that comes from coal now and into the foreseeable future.

Attack on Coal Mines

The mining of coal in Colorado came under attack when WildEarth Guardians sued advocating that the environmental review for operating the Colowyo mine near Craig, Colorado did not consider the impact on global warming. “The Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation Enforcement issued its decision…five days before court-imposed deadline…” The review “…found that the burning of coal at the nearby Craig Generating Station would have ‘insignificant impacts’ on national greenhouse gas emissions and moderate impacts on emissions in Colorado. It also noted that only 20 acres of the 809 acres to be mined under the original permit still remain untouched.”

The ruling was good news to the 220 people who are employed at the mine, but the issue is a stark reminder of how far the environmental movement will go to shut down any generation of energy by any means other than solar and wind. Similar law suits have been filed against other coal mines, including the Trapper Mine near Craig and other mines in New Mexico and near the Montana-Wyoming border.

I find it frightening that some who are advocates of the dangers of global warming are willing to accept economic devastation of people who make their living providing the fuel that generates the energy that supports our lives. A smart friend has calculated that there would be an insignificant impact on global temperatures if the United States stops the use of all energy-producing methods that produce carbon dioxide emissions. (He allows for each of us to continue generating carbon dioxide in the breath we exhale.)

The friend posted a previous thoughtful and informative commentary on global warming. Part of what he wrote was that, “One of the major problems with the concept of global warming is, if it is caused by Man, the potential remedies could be catastrophic to society.  If we were to stop using fossil fuels, our society must change drastically.  It is only a dream that solar and wind power can replace fossil fuels.  There are some political facts that are “inconvenient truths.”  The three major CO2 producers are China, the U.S., and Europe, in that order.  China has recently agreed to consider curbing their fossil fuel use in the next few decades.  America has cut back significantly on the generation of CO2, but will have a real problem going much farther.”

Perhaps the environmental groups, such as the one who has been filing the lawsuits against coal mines, have discovered ways to heat their homes, drive their cars, power their computers, and recharge their cell phones without completion from the masses who aren’t as smart. There is no doubt that there will be severe energy restrictions if the only “allowed energy” is from solar and wind. Perhaps some antinuclear activists will be willing to consider nuclear if energy isn’t available to recharge their cell phone batteries?

Temperature Changes in Alaska

President Obama recently visited Alaska and stirred the urge to check into the global warming controversy. He visited the Exit Glacier and mentioned that it had retreated 1.25 miles in 200 years. I was inspired to check into temperatures in Alaska and found one web site that says it is managed by members of the “American Association of State Climatologists.” They observe that, “The topic of climate change has attracted widespread attention in recent years and is an issue that numerous scientists study on various time and space scales. One thing for sure is that the earth’s climate has and will continue to change as a result of various natural and anthropogenic forcing mechanisms.” (Bravo!)

The site presents a graph showing that temperatures since the late 1970s have trended upward. However, they point out there has been little warming “…with the exception of Barrow (on the coast above the Arctic Circle) and a few other locations. The stepwise shift appearing in 1976 corresponds to a phase shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation from a negative phase to a positive phase.” That causes “…increased southerly flow and warm air advection into Alaska during the winter, resulting in positive temperature anomalies.” I don’t understand how increasing levels of carbon dioxide could have caused that, but I’m not a climatologist.

One article I read about President Obama’s visit to Alaska should have been checked more closely for errors before it went to print. It said (and I’m certain this must have been an error) that “The administration asked Congress to speed the acquisition of a new heavy-duty Coast Guard ice breaker from 2022 to 2020 and begin planning for the acquisition of additional ships that could help maintain year-long access to polar regions.” Why am I so convinced this must have been an error? It makes no sense to build ice breakers when the global warming models indicate polar ice will be mostly melted in the next few years.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center web site shows current levels of ice are less than those measured in 2013 and 2014, equal to 2011, and much more than 2012. A quick look at the graphs for the last five years indicates the levels of ice are about constant. Perhaps we should hope the data eventually will begin to track with the predictions from the global warming models and we can save money by not needing ice breakers.

Ponderer was kind enough to comment on the information above and points out that Dr. Strangelove would have wanted us to not have an icebreaker gap with the Russians reminiscent of the fallout shelter gap of that movie (not the exact words, but sorta close). Ponderer also thought it would be fair to show a chart of Arctic sea ice from the 1950s, which dramatically demonstrates that there is much less ice today. Point taken. However, I continue to have the suspicion that nature (including solar activity) has more to do with the extent of sea ice than the influences caused by man.

Nuclear Winter: The Evidence and the Risks

nuclear-winterThis book by Owen Greene, Ian Percival, and Irene Ridge reminded me of Carl Sagan’s public campaign to frighten people about nuclear weapons while I wondered why what happened after a nuclear holocaust would be more frightening than the holocaust itself. I thought I should educate myself about what frightened people more than the direct effects of a nuclear detonation. The book mentions that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences published a study in 1982 that the smoke from nuclear explosions could “…blot out nearly all the sunlight from half of Earth for weeks on end. The key factor that scientists had neglected for over thirty years was smoke!” The warning prompted five American scientists; Turco, Toon, Ackerman, Pollack, and Sagan (revered in Nuclear Winter circles as TTAPS) to calculate that “…summer could be turned into winter…” Nuclear explosions would ignite fires of everything combustible in and around cities. The smoke would combine with the ejected dust to create a long list of effects. Harvests would be reduced for two years or more, countless plants and animals would become extinct, there would be deaths from collapse of medical services, famine, and epidemics. “Human suffering would be world-wide and on a scale almost beyond comprehension.

The book presents a list of nuclear weapons stockpiles as of 1985 (predating India and China). The overall total was estimated at 49,600 with a total yield of approximately 15,000 megatons. For those who often question why there were so many weapons, there is a listing of “Targeting Categories” from the U.S. Department of Defense dated March, 1980. The listing which was said to be “only illustrative,” includes: Soviet Nuclear Forces (more than 2,000 targets), Military and Political Leadership (about 3,000), Conventional Military Forces (about 15,000),Economic and Industrial Targets (about 15,000)

Soviet priorities were said to “…be similar.” Continue reading

Changing Your Mind is Hard

It’s hard for people – any of us – to admit being wrong. The more stridently you take a position in public, the harder it is to recant. Science is one field where changing your mind when the evidence requires it is applauded.

As Carl Sagan once said:
“In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day.”

A few significant changes have occurred in my lifetime: plate tectonics replaced continental drift, an asteroid impact was accepted as finishing off most dinosaurs while birds were accepted as the last of the “avian dinosaurs”, and the Big Bang theory of cosmology replaced Steady State. There are many other examples.

It’s hard enough to admit to error in front of like-minded colleagues, so when you tackle a topic that is highly emotional, changing your mind may lose you a lot of friends. Because of this I want to commend Mark Lynas.

Lynas is a British author whose current focus is climate change. But in the 1990s he helped start the anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms) movement. In 2008, he was still “penning screeds” (his words) attacking the use of GMOs.

In 2013, he addressed the Oxford Farming Conference with a change of mind:
“I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.
As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.” See the full text of his talk here where he details why he changed his mind. (Updated url: http://www.marklynas.org/2013/01/lecture-to-oxford-farming-conference-3-january-2013/ I wonder why it changed?)

Lynas has a new book out and many older titles still on Amazon, so a cynic might say controversy sells books. But – unless I find evidence to the contrary – I say, congratulations Mark Lynas. I hope that someday when I need it (and no doubt I will) I find in myself the integrity you’ve shown.

This blog has more posts about GMOs.