January 30, 2023

Average is Not Normal – But It Can Be Better

The Bible tells us so.

Remember the famous seven fat years and seven lean years in Genesis?  Crops may well have been “average” over the whole fourteen-year period. Trouble is that none of those years individually was average. Fortunately dream-reader Joseph knew what was coming. Granaries were built and stocked during the fat years. Egypt became the grain-seller to the whole region during the lean years. The granaries were a very good way of smoothing the food supply through the variations of climate.

Last week I posted that “Average Is Not Normal”, especially in weather. Variation is normal. It is unlikely that any particular day will have a high temperature which is exactly the same as the historical average for that day. It is unlikely that any year will have an average amount of precipitation, especially in California. It is normal to deviate from the average. Even if average is not a good way to predict the particular, “average” can be a very useful concept in long-term planning so long as we understand what we are talking about.

There are many types of average including arithmetic mean, median, and geometric mean, all of which  have their uses; in fact median is better for predicting particular events than mean. In this post when I say “average” I’m talking about just the arithmetic mean, the number you get if you add a bunch of quantities and divide by the number of quantities.

If, on average, there is sufficient food produced, then there won’t be a famine if you have the foresight to build the infrastructure to store the food from the fat years to feed the lean years (assuming you start in the fat years). If, on average over a period of years, there is enough rain in a region, there will be enough water every year if water can be saved during rainy years for use in dry years. There also doesn’t need to be flooding so long as there is somewhere to put water during a deluge. Nature helps some with water stored underground and in lakes and ponds which change size with the seasons and the years. Here in Vermont we have flood control dams and artificial lakes behind them for just this purpose.

California used to build dams and reservoirs, too. They especially needed them to support a growing population and more agriculture because almost every year there is either a drought or deluge year and they tend to come in clusters. Like most of the US, California stopped doing big projects in the 1980s when-well intentioned environmental laws and regulations made it all too easy to use process and litigation to tie up any project almost forever; but California didn’t stop growing and the climate didn’t stop being variable. There isn’t enough infrastructure in California to smooth the variability even though, on the average, there’s enough water to support the population, industry, and agriculture.

I saw California’s Lt. Governor on TV boasting about all the money California has spent to prevent climate change as if climate variability were stoppable as an act of will and as if the “normal” climate in California were not highly variable. What she didn’t mention was the money California hasn’t spent mitigating the effects of climate as the population in danger has grown enormously.

According to an article in the LA Times, the Sites Reservoir, which could retain enough water to supply 4.5 million California households for a year, was first conceived of in the 1950s. It was abandoned in the 1980s as America’s era of building big came to an end. Now it’s being resurrected with the support of Gov. Newsome, who says it’s something he’s long supported.

Nevertheless, the reservoir is meeting fierce “environmentalist” opposition. Ron Stork, senior policy advocate for Friends of the River complains that it ”…enables elected officials to say, ‘Look, we’re doing something about megadrought.’ It becomes their solution to climate change.” Cut through the BS and Stork doesn’t want the effects of climate to be mitigated. Floods and droughts are useful in motivating panic-driven schemes to “stop climate change”. He would have objected to Joseph building granaries on the same grounds; the granaries do nothing to prevent the climate change Joseph predicted and take funds from some really useful sacrifices to the climate god.

Unless lots of laws and regulations are changed, opponents will be able to delay this project almost indefinitely even though it has the support of the Governor and planning money has been appropriated. If Egypt had our current system of project regulation and endless litigation delay, they would’ve starved during the lean years because the granaries never would’ve gotten built. To be fair, climate change denial would also have led to starvation in Egypt.

Deviations from average are normal. Sometimes they are precursors to long term climate change; sometimes not. Where we can predict oscillations of weather patterns, especially where the population affected by these oscillations has grown enormously, we must act to mitigate these effects. We know how to do that. Humans have known how to carry surplus from fat (or wet) years to lean (or dry) years since biblical times. We can make an average amount of water available every year regardless of average rainfall hardly every happening in any one year.  It does no good at all to mourn for the mythical “average” year. It is essential to build the infrastructure we need when we need it. In California’s case that was at least 70 non-average years ago.

See also:

Average is Not Normal

Regulatory Reform Urgently Needed for Renewable Energy

January 23, 2023

Average is Not Normal

A six-foot man can easily drown in a river which is “on the average” five feet deep.

In the US each woman averages 1.64 children during her childbearing years. Does that mean that a “normal” woman has 1.64 kids? Of course not. One kid, maybe two, maybe three, maybe more. A fractional kid, however, would be very abnormal.

Every night our local tv weather people say tomorrow’s high temperature is going to be so many degrees above or below normal. But they don’t really mean normal even though that’s what it says on the graphic; they mean “average”. And average and normal aren’t the same thing. Here in New England ten degrees above or below average is still “normal”. It is highly unlikely that the high on any particular day will be exactly the average; not as unlikely as 1.64 children but not likely either.

In a New York Times article on whether the recent rain and snow will cure California’s drought, Peter Gleick, co-founder of and senior fellow at the Pacific Institute, a research organization specializing in water issues, complains “We don’t seem to get average years anymore.” In fact there is scarcely ever a weather year which is average anywhere. This is especially true in California where drought and deluge have alternated since long before humans have had any effect on climate.

Gleick is credited with inventing the terms “weather whiplash” and “megadrought.” He acknowledges further down in the article that the weather typically changes year over year in California; but he apparently likes to describe weather in apocalyptic terms, perhaps in order to justify “extreme climate action”. The reason I’m ranting about the difference between “normal” and “average” is that I think the distinction is intentionally blurred when talking about weather in order to promote climate hysteria.

According to the New York Times meteorologists are also concerned. From an article with the wonderful headline: Bomb Cyclone? Or Just Windy with a Chance of Hyperbole?:

The widespread use of colorful terms like ‘bomb cyclone’ and ‘atmospheric river,’ along with the proliferating categories, colors and names of storms and weather patterns, has struck meteorologists as a mixed blessing: good for public safety and climate-change awareness but potentially so amplified that it leaves the public numb to or unsure of the actual risk. The new vocabulary, devised in many cases by the weather-science community, threatens to spin out of control.”

An op-ed in The Times provides a long term perspective:

“I’ve been through a handful of floods, and they needed no hype: 1964, 1969, 1982 to 1983, 1986, 1995, 1997, 2005, 2017. A flood year always breaks the drought years, or so my grandfather the raisin farmer told it. Drought is California. Flood is California. In the wettest years, rain and snowmelt coming down the rivers produce some 200 million acre-feet of water. In the driest years, they produce 30 million. Between the extremes lies an average year, which happens so infrequently that it is a myth we tell ourselves. As long as we keep faith in the average, it is us and not nature in command.”

I’m the first to insist that climate changes; it always has and it will as long as earth has an atmosphere. Nor do I deny that we are capable of accelerating climate change and have already. Hysteria is a terrible way to deal with anything, however – especially things as important as climate and energy policy. Drought is normal for California. Floods are normal for California. An “average” year would be abnormal (although not alarming).  A long-term change in the average may signal an actual change in climate. A day or year which differs from the average signifies nothing – although may still be something we have to deal with.

Average is not normal. End of rant.

January 14, 2023

The Debt Ceiling Compromise We Need

Cover Only APPROPRIATED Expenditures!

Today Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced that the US will run out of borrowing authority (again) on January 19th and needs to have the debt limit lifted by Congress before summer when the Treasury will run out of shortterm tricks to keep paying Uncle Sam’s bills. Moderates in both parties are afraid that the Republican right, fresh from its victories in the Speakership fight, will block a debt-limit increase.

The Wall Street Journal, which is firmly part of the establishment middle on this issue, explains for the hundredth time “Raising the debt limit doesn’t incur new government spending, but instead authorizes the Treasury to borrow to pay for expenses Congress separately approves.”  That’s a good argument but the facts are wrong.

A small part of the reason that the government is running out of debt authority faster than anticipated is that we haven’t collected student loan payments in years. This forbearance was not appropriated by Congress. It was first declared by Trump during what was an emergency, then extended by Trump and Biden as the emergency waned and unemployment practically disappeared. Biden has declared permanent forgiveness for huge amounts of college debt without any authorization from Congress nor appropriation to cover what it costs the Treasury to go without these repayments. The forgiveness is tied up in lawsuits but the forbearance on collection – regardless of ability to pay – goes on and on. If the debt ceiling is raised, the raise will allow money to be borrowed in our name to cover these UNAPPROPRIATED costs.

So here’s the good government compromise:

  • Raise the debt ceiling to over what Congress has appropriated;
  • Be specific that money can’t be spent which hasn’t been appropriated; that prohibition includes the boondoggle of forgiving the debt-incurred by relatively affluent people to attend over-priced colleges. (BTW, there already are many duly legislated programs to forgive college debt for those in certain professions and with low income).

Compared to the total deficit, unfunding unappropriated expenditures will only go a small way towards an affordable budget. Congress has duly appropriated exorbitant amounts. Nevertheless, using the debt limit to rein in unappropriated expenditures can be an important first step to restoring both congressional authority and responsibility.

January 09, 2023

Energy Superabundance is Within Our Reach

Cheap and abundant energy is the answer not only to climate concerns but also to vastly higher living standards for all.

Solar and wind generated electricity has gotten cheaper by orders of magnitude in the last couple of decades; fracking has made oil and gas cheaper (remember the fear of peak oil?) except when we decide to restrict drilling. We know how to build small, even safer, and relatively inexpensive nuclear fission plants. Tidal electrical generation has hardly been tapped but will be.  There is tremendous potential for geothermal energy as well as the use of hydrogen produced by hydrolysis. We may well be on a twenty-year countdown to practical use of fusion as a clean energy source.

Our use of energy has become much more efficient. I get the same light from a 6.5-watt LED bulb that I used to get from a 100-watt incandescent bulb. Electric cars require less energy to move them than their gasoline predecessors, assuming an efficient source for the electricity they consume. Modern induction electric motors use much less energy than their predecessors. Heat pumps in all but very cold climates are more efficient ways to both heat and cool than traditional furnaces, radiant electric heat, and earlier air conditioners (which have always been heat pumps). More efficient use of energy reduces the cost of everything we use energy for as well as keeping energy demand and cost lower.

There’s no question that lower cost energy means more use of energy, sometimes even more money spent for energy in the aggregate (this phenomenon is known as Jevons Paradox after William Stanley Jevons who first wrote about it in his 1865 book The Coal Question). There’s also no question that standard of living including adequate food, mobility, clean water, temperature control and most other material things we value goes up with the availability of affordable energy. Climate alarmists are right to point out that people emerging from poverty will use much more energy than they used to when abundant energy was not available to them.

Climate alarmists also worry that world population growth leads to an unrelenting and unsustainable growth in energy demand. That particular Malthusian nightmare should be allayed by the now acknowledged fact that world population is on track to stabilize and then even decline this century, largely because women who have a choice don’t usually choose to have many babies and because more and more women are able to make that choice thanks to education, emancipation, birth control, and affluence. We will all use more energy in the future but there will be less of us.

Researchers Austin Vernon and Eli Dourado at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University have written a fascinating paper “Energy Superabundance: How Cheap Abundant Energy Will Shape Our Future”. They meticulously document superabundant energy as a cure for much which ails us. A few examples:

  1. Water. We know how to desalinate sea water; the only obstacle is the cost of the energy required. Without that obstacle water will be readily anywhere remotely close to the sea. We can also extract water from the air. Really takes a lot of energy but becomes a practical solution inland if energy is cheap enough.
  2. Housing. Think how much more land becomes available if the cost of transportation is near zero (yeah, I know, suburban sprawl). Think how many places become habitable with more fresh water and inexpensive cooling and heating – even if the climate continues to change. Think how much of the cost of building is directly or indirectly the cost of energy.
  3. Agriculture. Water, of course, is key. But indoor agriculture, so-called vertical farms, are practical where land is scarce if artificial light is cheap enough to compete with sunlight. Indoor marijuana growers, who use enormous amounts of electricity, already know that. But cheaper electricity is required for crops which don’t command as high a price.
  4. The Environment! Given superabundant energy which does not add greenhouse gas to the atmosphere, we can use that energy to remove atmospheric CO2 and either sequester it or use it to make plastics or netzero fuels. Once CO2 removal is cheap enough, there need be no net addition to greenhouse gas in the atmosphere when fossil fuels are used wherever they are the most practical alternative. Problem solved!

How do we get to that nirvana of superabundant energy. The authors of the paper say:

“To achieve this level of energy abundance, we need to remove the obstacles to building in the physical world. Power plants and transmission lines continue to be plagued by red tape from environmental review requirements, the siting process, and veto players at the local, state, and federal levels. Transportation infrastructure that is needed to allow us to step into our newfound energy prosperity suffers from similar issues. Smart policies like congestion taxes that could increase throughput and therefore increase demand for transportation languish because of a lack of political will. A high-speed tunnel that would connect DC and Baltimore in 15 minutes is languishing in environmental review. New aircraft types face regulatory obstacles at the Federal Aviation Administration.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was spun off from the Atomic Energy Commission in 1975. In the entire history of the agency since then, it has never approved a reactor license from start to finish, from initial application to beginning of operations. Without reform, the obstacles to miniaturizing nuclear technology to achieve a portable source of high-density power are significant.”

My hope is that 2023 will be the year when the quest for superabundant energy and all its benefits replaces climate hysteria as a driver of public policy and private investment. We’d get a long way along the path if we fix our “build nothing never” permitting process. Happy New Year.

See also:

Ezra Klein: The Dystopia We Fear Is Keeping Us From the Utopia We Deserve

Noah Smith: Why Paul Ehrlich got everything wrong

The Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough is Very Good News

Malthus Was Very Wrong

January 03, 2023

Two Lessons Half Learned in 2022

Can we avoid dystopia?

In Lionel Shriver’s dystopian novel The Mandibles: a Family, 2029-2047, the US falls into chaos when it learns that it can’t just print money forever and that ignoring China’s (so far fictional) invasion of Taiwan led to international helplessness for the US.

Fortunately, perhaps, we learned in 2022 that there is a consequence to infinite federal largesse financed by the Federal Reserve creating money. The ridiculous theory that money can be printed in infinite amounts without adverse consequences (Modern Monetary Theory) has been discredited. The Fed has learned the lesson and is reversing its free money, zero interest rate policy. However, there is no sign that political Washington has learned the same lesson. The only bipartisan acts Congress is capable of are huge spending bills full of special interest handouts like the recently passed $1.6 trillion Omnibus Bill passed last month and the ironically named $738 billion Inflation Reduction Act from earlier in 2022. The collision between Fed policy and congressional vote-buying may well lead to a recession – which will, of course, be an excuse for more spending. A lesson half-learned.

If left unanswered, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would have had disastrous consequences for freedom and world order. Most credit goes to Ukraine for its incredibly brave defense. However, President Biden has so far done a very good job of rallying America and most of the free world to arm the fighting Ukrainians and reduce Russia’s economic ability to fight this war. Current NATO members have recognized the threat; Sweden and Finland are prepared to join and strengthen the alliance. IMO we should be giving Ukraine more advanced weapons; but we have come a long way from the socks (or was it gloves?) that President Obama sent after Russia’s invasion of Crimea. There are still many Americans calling for a compromise (give part of Ukraine to Russia); others inexplicably side with Putin. Europe is paying a hard price as it weans itself from Russian oil and gas and not all Europeans want to pay that price.  Can’t call this a lesson learned until Putin is defeated and seen to be defeated.

There are many more lessons to be learned from 2022 (blogs to come); but we will be a long way towards avoiding Lionel Shriver’s path to dystopia if the two lessons above guide us in 2023.

Happy New Year.

 

See also:

Dystopia, The Novel

The Dynamo of Democracy

December 20, 2022

The Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough is Very Good News

It will soon be condemned by the renewable-industrial complex.

For more than 50 years, scientists have hoped to use nuclear fusion to produce electricity in great quantities, cheaply, and without environmentally harmful byproducts. Progress has been painfully slow until two weeks ago when Livermore Labs announced that an experiment produced about 50% more energy from a target mass than the energy directed at that mass to get it to fuse. The experiment was very expensive and the amount of net energy tiny so don’t expect a nuclear fusion plant in your neighborhood soon. Nevertheless, the experiment proved that the fusion process, which produces the energy of the sun, can be replicated on earth other than explosively as in a hydrogen (fusion) bomb.

If we have reliable limitless clean energy at an all-in price less than today’s electricity, concerns about human-caused global warming would (or at least should) disappear. No more coal, oil, natural gas, or even wood burned at power plants so no greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electrical generation. No need for nuclear fission plants and the radioactive waste they produce. With enough cheap electricity available (assuming we do get around to building a better electric grid), no reason not to electrify most transportation and thermal processes including space heating, smelting, recycling, fertilizer, and other chemical production. In fact, with enough cheap electricity we can even put excess carbon in the atmosphere back into the ground so no reason not to use some fossil fuels where their energy densities make them more practical than batteries. In fact, we won’t need batteries in the electrical grid since fusion energy can be produced 24x7 and during all seasons. And, of course, no need for fields of intermittently-operating solar panels or huge wind turbines. We wouldn’t even have to nag people to stop using energy to save the planet.

This should all be good news, right? Well, not quite. Suppose you’re in the solar energy or nuclear energy or battery business. Should subsidies continue to flow to you or should we have a Manhattan project to commercialize nuclear fusion given evidence that it can be harnessed? Do we need mandates for electric cars in advance of a grid and power source sufficient to keep them running or should we just let automakers and auto buyers follow the economics as electricity gets cheaper and cheaper? Ditto electric heat pumps. Even if it’s 20 years before significant amounts of the world’s energy are produced through fusion, what today seem like over-ambitious goals for decarbonization by mid-century will easily be met while still allowing the developing world to develop and without cratering existing lifestyles.

The renewable-industrial complex doesn’t like competition (most of us business people don’t). Before 2008 natural gas was considered a good transition fuel for decarbonization since it produces half the GHGs per kilowatt generated than coal and only 75% as much as oil. The renewable-industrial complex wasn’t afraid of natural gas because it was very expensive and America’s known reserves were being depleted. We were about to build import terminals which would make natural gas even more expensive. Then the commercialization of fracking made natural gas much more abundant and much cheaper. In the real world this abundance had wonderful environmental consequences because natural gas replaced coal as America’s electrical generation power fuel of choice without any mandate except comparative cost. After 2008, natural gas was demonized.

Since natural gas was and is a cheaper way to reduce GHG emissions than unsubsidized renewables (although their price is coming down), a relentless propaganda campaign against fracking, the technology which made gas and oil cheaper and more abundant, began and convinced most of the unintelligent intelligentsia that Europe should stop drilling (and buy from Russia) and that the US should discourage drilling and not build needed pipelines even though replacing coal with natural gas is still the fastest way to reduce emissions.

It's not time to bet all our chips on fusion but we should be upping the ante with more government-sponsored basic research like that which Livermore Labs does and less subsidies elsewhere. Government can help encourage private investment in fusion by NOT sprinkling grants around to politically favored commercialization schemes. Otherwise productive human energy goes into grant-seeking rather than engineering.

If there is now serious progress towards commercial fusion (it’s my bet there will be), serious opposition will emerge from rival energy vested interests including fossil fuels, nuclear fusion, and the very effective renewable-industrial complex. There are legitimate arguments now that we don’t know how long it will take to commercialize fusion. There will be a cacophony of mostly spurious arguments about dangers that fusion somehow poses as there have been against fracking. We should leave those arguments blowing in the wind and let nuclear fusion create a new age of abundance.

See also:

Don’t let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good

Fracking Saved Our Freedom

December 14, 2022

Burning the Ships After Landing

Mental health, policing, and energy are examples.

In 1519 Hernan Cortes burnt his ships in Vera Cruz to prevent any attempt by his soldiers to return to Cuba instead of conquering the Aztecs. “Reformers” like this strategy also. If you shut the mental hospitals, kinder more effective ways of dealing with mental illness will happen. If you fire the cops and release offenders, the root causes of crime will be dealt with. If you shut down the nukes and stop drilling, renewables and drastic conservation will immediately happen. Trouble is that the world doesn’t usually work that way despite Cortes example to the contrary.

Mental Health

The book and movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest helped turn America against large “mental hospitals”. The horror of some of these institutions had long been documented. We decided to shut these places down and end the misery and abuse of patients. The theory was that modern psychiatry and drugs would allow the inmates to lead lives in the community or in pleasant local institutions. Deinstitutionalization became the rule; large institutions like the hospital in Waterbury, Vermont were emptied out and not replaced as they fell into decay.

The problem is that theory was wrong. The community institutions were never built, to a large degree because of community resistance. People with acute mental problems are not very good at taking the drugs prescribed for them – and are easy marks for those selling drugs which make their problem worse. Psychotherapy is hardly a quick or certain cure. Housing is hard enough to obtain and maintain for those with moderate income; it is impossible for those with severe mental problems. Our cities are spotted with filthy homeless encampment. Emergency rooms are increasingly dangerous for both patients and staff because the mentally ill are bought there and then remain.  Although most people with untreated mental illness are more danger to themselves than others, too much violence is committed by mentally ill people who are a known and repeated offenders. New York City is now returning to involuntary incarceration of schizophrenics for public safety reasons although it is not clear what institutions they’ll be sent to.

Mental institutions should have been reformed. Involuntary commitment will always need safeguards. Perhaps community health centers should be built regardless of local opposition. But the large mental hospitals should have remained in operation while being reformed and until alternatives were actually available. Now we are faced with reconstructing them or locking the mentally ill in with the general prison population. We burnt the ships too soon.

Criminal Justice

Well-meaning people, appalled by some horrific instance of police misconduct, forced cuts to policing with the belief that the public would be protected by “addressing the root causes of crime” and sending social workers to deal with threatening situations. Nice theory. But we haven’t reduced the root causes of crime. Partly because of the mental health crisis, social workers are demanding police protection for calls they used to make on their own. Offenders are imprisoned less; they have more opportunity to reoffend; they do reoffend. We appear to need more police – and we have less. We have more crime. We burnt the criminal justice ships before we had any way to go forward.

Energy

Large nuclear power plants frightened people – although they have the best safety record of any energy source and are carbon-free. Germany shut down almost all of its nukes; so did Japan for a while; the US did not recondition older nukes or replace them with newer designs. Like Vermont Yankee, the old plants are shutting down without a clean replacement for the power they generated.

Fossil fuels make a contribution to climate change. Europe pretty much stopped drilling for oil and natural gas. The United States hasn’t built needed pipelines and has disinvested in fossil fuels. Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it was clear that sufficient renewables, energy storage, and transmission facilities were not available to replace the shuttered nukes and depleting fossil fuel sources. The energy shortage might be even worse had the pandemic not slowed growth. Putin saw the energy fix we’d left ourselves in and it emboldened him to defy Europe. We burned the energy ships when we still needed them.

Conclusion

Real problems like abusive and ineffectual mental hospitals, crime and police misconduct, and energy production’s effect on the environment must be dealt with. Burning the ships before alternatives are in place historically makes problems even worse.

BTW, Cortes returned to Cuba in a reinforcement ship.

 

December 06, 2022

It’s The Subsidence

Parts of Pakistan are sinking ten times faster than seas are rising.

Recently-flooded Pakistan is the poster child for “reparations” to be paid to third world countries by the developed world for the damages caused by climate change. However, the scale of the disaster is largely due to poor governance in Pakistan and local practices that won’t be cured by shoveling cash to the same kleptocrats who have swallowed up past foreign aid without improving the lives of their citizens. Almost all press accounts of the disaster fail to mention that so much water has been pumped out from under the areas which flooded that the land is sinking, a process called subsidence, much faster than seas are rising,

The monsoon rains were the worst in 40 years and may have been exacerbated by global warming (responsible scientists don’t attribute individual weather events to climate trends). There is more glacial runoff into the rivers of Pakistan than there used to be, certainly a function of higher temperatures. The seas are slowly rising. However, the disaster was preordained by the flood of people moving into the affected areas recently and deep drilling for water both to support expanded agriculture on the alluvial soil and water-hungry manufacturing in cities like Karachi, parts of which are sinking five times faster than the surrounding sea is rising. As the aquifers are depleted, the sandy soil compresses and the land above sinks. Earthquakes hasten the settling process as does the weight of new structures.

Until recently it has been almost impossible to distinguish rising ocean levels from subsiding land since the sea reaches further in both cases. However, satellite-based measurements now give us an extremely accurate measurement of both sea and land level. An article published by Voice of America in 2019 titled “Cities Sinking in Pakistan's Baluchistan Provincediscussed the sinking problem but without explicitly predicting the flooding:

“Local and American experts warn unchecked groundwater extraction in major urban centers in Pakistan's Baluchistan province has triggered the sinking of the land at a rate of 10 centimeters a year, causing cracks in buildings, roads, and agricultural fields.

“The land subsidence is occurring in numerous locations in northern parts of Baluchistan, including districts of Qilla Abdullah, Pishin, Mastung and the provincial capital of Quetta, the largest population center in the province [nb. an area very hard hit by flooding.]

“The area is arid and groundwater is the only source of water for domestic and agricultural use, said Professor Din Muhammad Kakar of the University of Baluchistan.

“’We have drawn a lot of water from the subsurface and the over-exploration of the groundwater has triggered the phenomenon of land subsidence since 2010,’ said Kakar, who is dean and chairman of the department of seismology.”

The alluvial plain is just above sea level and historically floods frequently; that’s why the soil is rich and doesn’t become depleted of nutrients. People build just above the most recent flood level (and sometimes below it). When the land sinks, the next flood of the same magnitude will reach more land than the one before it. When there is a forty-year flood through land which has sunk and become many times more populated since the last major flood, there is predictably a disaster. That’s what happened in Pakistan.

Subsidence is a major threat in many places beyond Pakistan.  A recent study measured subsidence worldwide:

“Satellite data indicate that land is subsiding faster than sea level is rising in many coastal cities throughout the world. If subsidence continues at recent rates, these cities will be challenged by flooding much sooner than projected by sea level rise models. We measured subsidence rates in 99 coastal cities around the world between 2015 and 2020 using satellite data. Subsidence rates are highly variable within cities and from city to city. The most rapid subsidence is occurring in South, Southeast, and East Asia. However, rapid subsidence is also happening in North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia. Human activity—primarily groundwater extraction—is likely the main cause of this subsidence. Expanded monitoring and policy interventions are required to reduce subsidence rates and minimize their consequences.”

An article in The Washington Post about the barriers built to mitigate flooding in Venice goes on and on about whether the wall will be effective as the sea rises. Buried at the end of the article is the main reason for recent flooding in Venice: the land the city is built on is sinking, largely because of water extraction.

It's politically popular to attribute all disasters to climate change. Ignoring other natural and man-made causes of catastrophe – like subsidence, makes it impossible to take effective avoidance and mitigation measures. No matter how many Teslas we drive or how many dollars we pay in reparations, Pakistan and many other countries will suffer increasingly severe floods so long as water is being pumped out from under collapsible sandy soil.

See also:

How Bad Governance Exacerbated Pakistan’s Flooding (from Foreign Policy)

How NOT to Convince Anyone about Global Warming (about subsidence in Norfolk, VA)

November 28, 2022

Note to Legislature: First Do No Harm

The price of home heating oil has almost doubled since you passed the Global Warming Solutions Act.

Just before we knew Covid was hitting us in February of 2020, the Vermont House overwhelmingly passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) in order to reduce greenhouse gas emission. The average price for home heating oil in the US that February was $2.89/gallon. Advocates of the bill felt that this price was too low to give Vermonters an economic incentive to switch off fossil fuel; but a legislature which faces reelection every two years doesn’t dare just openly add a huge tax to raise the price of home heating. Instead the legislature set up an unelected council to come up with schemes to force a switch from fossil fuels.

In 2021, when the price of home heating oil was still under $3.00/gallon, the council duly proposed the Clean Heat Standard, a scheme to force natural gas, propane and heating oil dealers to either switch their customers to “renewable” heating sources or purchase clean energy credits. Either way, users of fossil fuel would end up subsidizing those who switched to renewables. The cost of fossil fuel would go up; the price of renewables would be lowered by yet more subsidies. The price difference would incent the fuel switching the legislature wanted without the necessity of any legislator voting directly on a price increase for home heating.

Governor Phil Scott vetoed the bill and fortunately that veto was upheld (by just one vote). However, thanks to President Biden’s fossil-fuel-hostile policy with an assist from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fans of higher fuel prices have gotten more than they dared hope for. The average price of home heating oil in the US was $5.43 in the week ending November 21, 2022 – almost twice the price when the Vermont House first passed GWSA! There’s a good chance that price will go even higher this winter.

If you believed that higher prices were needed to save the planet, you’ve got them. Vermonters are currently worried about heating their homes. They would gladly adopt alternatives which are cheaper than oil or propane. No need to raise the price of oil further, is there? Of course not.

So what should this legislative session do to reduce Vermont’s net emissions?

At first glance the voters seem to have sent a mixed message. They gave Democrats and Progressives, many of whom emphasized environmental action, an even greater super majority with which they might override vetoes. On the other hand, these same voters also reelected Republican Phil Scott, who vetoed the Clean Heat Standard, with a margin greater than that any Republican Governor has had since Democrats reemerged in the State half a century ago.

A reasonable interpretation of the apparently mixed message is that we voters would like to see climate action which does not push soaring energy prices even higher. Fortunately we have such an alternative.

Trees remove atmospheric CO2 by using sunlight to break it down and then storing much of the resulting carbon in the tree and in the ground, a process called sequestration. Removing a pound of CO2 from the atmosphere has the same effect on climate as avoiding a pound of emissions. CO2 sequestration by trees is fast emerging as a practical way to reduce greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and net emissions. The 2018 UN IPCC Report lists reforestation as the cheapest alternative per pound of CO2 removed from the atmosphere compared both to other ways of removing CO2 and to strategies for reducing emissions. Plans from the recent COP 27 climate summit rely heavily on forest preservation and restoration.

Vermont is over 75% forested. In 2018 (the last year we have information for), Vermont forests REMOVED 5.2 MMT CO2-e (metric tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere. (I and others have argued that this number should be much higher this number is estimated according to standards and methodologies which are generally accepted nationally and blessed by the UN so let’s go with it). Forest management with an emphasis on carbon sequestration (which does NOT preclude logging) could easily increase this number by 20% over the next decade. Huge progress towards the goals in the GWSA.

“There are up to 536,000 acres of opportunity in Vermont to restore forest cover for climate mitigation. Reforesting these areas with approximately 291 million trees could capture 1.65 million tonnes of CO2 per year, equivalent to removing 355,000 cars from the road.” [sic. The funny spelling means that these are metric tons – 1000Kg each]. This quote is from Reforestation Hub, a website run by the Nature Conservancy. Much of this land is in already abandoned or failing dairy farms. Farmers would gain by having a new market for the land.

At most we must reduce 1.28 million tons to meet the 2025 goal in the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA).  We can get there easily.

The feds are making billions of (our) money available for forest management and reforestation under both the recently passed Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act (sic). This year the legislature and the governor can and should concentrate on using those funds effectively towards climate goals by establishing forest management and reforestation programs. That’s the kind of cooperation and climate action we voters would like to see.

See also:

Draft Report Says We’re Well Along the Way to Our 2050 Net Zero Goal

Trees Are the Right End of the Stick for CO2 Reduction in Vermont

Governor Phil Scott(R) Wins Huge Victory in Dark Blue Vermont

November 22, 2022

Trump Was the Middle Finger of the Proletariat

Trumpenfinger
Trumpenfinger by Jack Morris


The Trumpenfinger to the elite wasn’t meant to be pretty.

I’m being optimistic in using the past tense about the former president. I do hope he’s fading from the political scene. However, there are important reasons why almost half the voters supported him in 2016 and 2020 and why so many remain loyal to him today. We ignore those reasons and those votes democratically cast at our own peril and, yes, at the peril of democracy.

Start with the Trump policies which have carried on into the Biden administration.

Trump said immigration was out of control; I thought that was xenophobia. Didn’t think we needed a wall. But immigration is out of control. Border towns have been given the impossible burden of millions of people pouring in. Liberal “sanctuary cities” whine when a few busloads are sent their way. Biden triedT to continue Trump’s COVID-prevention excuse to turn migrants away at the border; but a federal judge has just ruled that out. Hispanic voters increasingly support Republican efforts to stop illegal immigration.  Yes, there should be a better path to citizenship. Yes, we need workers. But part of the signal sent with the Trumpenfinger was that elites were, perhaps deliberately, ignoring the problem of a broken border and the effect on real people.

Trump said the US had struck bad trade deals in the interest of globalization. He pointed to China as an example of a country taking advantage of our liberal trade rules. Again he was accused of xenophobia and racism. Biden has doubled down on a hostile China policy. Apparently the people pointing the Trumpenfinger were right.

This is not just a left-right thing at all. Corruption in the “bipartisan” middle is what enraged both the left-wing Occupy Wall Street and the right-wing Tea Party movements when not only banks but also bank investors and over-compensated bank officers were bailed out during the great recession. Lately the only bipartisan bill which passed was the Chips Act, a subsidy for some of the most successful corporations in the world which make computer chips – and whose executives and investors can be counted on to remember their friends with campaign contributions. Neither Republicans nor Democrats, who each had a turn at controlling the presidency and both houses of congress, have managed to repeal the outrageous carried-interest tax loophole for venture capitalists. Trumpenfinger! But Trump didn’t get rid of it either. Lately President Biden decided that the Americans most in need of relief are those who attended over-priced colleges on credit

Hilary Clinton called the people who didn’t agree with her “deplorables”. Understandably, they gave her the Trumpenfinger. “Liberals” say that those who don’t agree with them on abortion are in favor of enslaving women; those who don’t agree that the US is and always has been a fundamentally racist society are extreme racists; those who don’t want sexuality discussed in school until at least fourth grade are irremediably homophobic; those who are openly patriotic are fascists; police should be abolished in the interest of reducing crime (this from people living in buildings with doormen and enclaves with private security). The Trumpenfinger is an understandable response.

January 6th was inexcusable. Trump egging on people and then claiming the secret service wouldn’t “let” him join them is deplorable – and cowardly. Trump, the messenger, decided that he was the indispensable messiah. That doesn’t work either.

Trump should, and hopefully will, fade away. He is no longer a useful vehicle for other politican’s ambition. Some of the message he was elected to bring has been absorbed. We endanger democracy, however, if we ignore the rest of the message or denigrate our fellow citizens who delivered the Trumpenfinger to shatter our complacency.

November 14, 2022

Governor Phil Scott(R) Wins Huge Victory in Dark Blue Vermont

But has an even huger job ahead of him.

Ron DeSantis won newly red Florida by 19 points. Republican Governor Phil Scott won reelection here in Vermont with an historic 47-point margin over his Democrat opponent! This was apparently the highest margin for any Republican governor in the country and a modern-day record for a Republican in Vermont. In 2020 Vermont was the first state to be called for Joe Biden and gave him a larger percentage of its vote, 66%, than any other state. The first senate race called in the country last Tuesday was the election of Peter Welch(D) as Vermont senator. The Green Mountain State, home to Bernie Sanders, elected all Democrats to other statewide offices. Abortion rights were on the ballot here and won overwhelmingly. But none of this stopped Republican Scott from being reelected with an even greater margin than he had two years ago after leading the state calmly and excellently through the pandemic and being one of the first governors to terminate his own emergency powers.

Scott is scarcely a Trump Republican. As early as 2016 he made clear that he would not vote for the Donald even though he was his party’s nominee.  He spoke in favor of the abortion rights amendment to the Vermont constitution. He has signed some tighter gun control legislation as well as opposing some. He worked hard to prevent masking and school closures from becoming divisive social issues.

Scott is quoted in VTDigger: “Vermonters spoke loudly, and clearly. They want their leaders to focus on the economy, affordability and protecting the vulnerable. They want centrists, moderation and balance. They want us to be able to debate the issues with civility, seek consensus where possible, compromise when necessary, and agree to disagree when no compromise can be found.”

Vermonters apparently also want some balance. Scott cast a record number of vetoes as governor. Amazingly some were upheld even though Democrats and Progressives together had a “veto-proof” majority in both the house and the Senate. At the same time that Vermonters gave Scott his huge victory, they also increased the Democratic and Progressive majority in the House of Representatives and maintained an overwhelming left-leaning Senate majority.

These majorities are why it will be very hard for Scott over the next two years. The Democrats and allies are already discussing, of course, the legislation they plan to pass without having to worry about a veto. This legislation includes potentially huge unfunded mandates, “environmental” legislation which will both drive up energy costs significantly and, IMO, be bad for the environment, and housing schemes which will result in higher housing costs and less availability of housing.

In the past there was some negotiation between the Governor’s office and legislative leaders over potential legislation since there was always a chance that a Scott veto would be upheld – as some were. With an even larger majority, there will be less inducement to compromise; and legislation will be more partisan and ideologically driven. Initiatives from the Governor are not likely to receive much attention but are needed to provide positive solutions to very real environmental, workforce, and housing problems.

We Vermonters must let our legislators know that they do want thoughtful rather than ideological legislating. Hopefully we’ll get the “moderation and balance” that Scott talked about. And hopefully the rest of the country will as well.

See also:

Leadership in Extreme Disruption

November 03, 2022

Most of Us Will Be Somewhat Disappointed by Election Results

Will we accept them?

The only certainty about Tuesday’s election is that almost half of us are certain to be disappointed by the results. If Rs win the House and Ds keep the Senate, more than half of us will be disappointed. Local results have the potential to add each of us to the disappointed ranks.

So are we going to act like Donald Trump and Stacey Abrams and refuse to recognize defeat? Are we going to question the legitimacy of those we didn’t vote for? Are we going to blame fraud, lies, media bias, advertising, the Russians, or someone else? Are we going to help assure that elected leaders fail or will we hope they succeed for the good of the country even if we’d like to replace them in the next election?

There have been and will be fraud, lies, media bias, advertising and the Russians at least exist. There should be recounts in close elections. There should be swift and thorough investigations of fraud and suppression allegations with prosecutions of any guilty parties resulting. Faith in elections must be constantly validated.

Media bias and lying politicians of all stripes have been with us since the birth of the republic – and in its predecessors. They don’t invalidate elections. We’re the jury and we must decide whom to believe about what. That’s the way democracy (and advertising) works.

In these very polarized times (but not most polarized times – we did have a civil war), it’s easy for people on either side to be incredulous that the other side really won. “Everybody I know voted for HRC. Trump could have only won because the Russians got to the deplorables.” Or “Everybody I know voted for Trump. Biden could only have won because of boatloads of fake ballots and rigged voting machines.”  

Back when I was a kid in Brooklyn, we knew the Dodger’s woulda won if we wuzn’t robbed by duh tree blind mice (umpires). We didn’t take ourselves too seriously, though, and learned to wait ‘til next year.

Voting is the best defense of democracy; neither side has a monopoly on either democratic virtue or totalitarian vice. Policing elections against both rigging and intimidation is essential and is nothing new. Accepting the fact that your fellow citizens decided to vote differently than you and everybody you know wants them to act is what ultimately makes this country work. Then you wait for next year and work like hell to vote the bastards out – assuming you haven’t changed your mind.

Good luck to the USA Tuesday. May the best people (or the lesser of evils) win every race.

See also:

Democrats and Republicans Both Fear the Next Election Will be Stolen

Are You Ready to Accept Defeat at the Polls?

October 24, 2022

Oil Companies Profit Because We Shut Off Russian Competition

They can’t be allowed to sit on their assets.

The Wall Street Journal has a story about President Biden’s feeble attempt to increase US oil production by promising to refill the strategic reserve at a low price. Up until now he has discouraged drilling and promised to end the use of fossil fuels. He’s complained about oil company profits; but what’s he’s actually done is made it easier for them to profit greatly by restricting new supply in the absence of Russian competition. According to the WSJ:

“Energy executives and analysts expressed doubts the plan would spur a large increase in production in the short term…. They hope to capture high oil prices while they are in place. Rising drilling costs and pressure from investors to limit production and return excess cash to shareholders are also dimming the outlook for production growth…”

Time for the oil companies and the President to get off the dime. More US oil needs to flow immediately - both to keep driving, trucking, and heating costs down domestically and to preserve Europe’s ability and will to forgo Russian oil. This is cold war 2.0 (let’s hope it stays cold for us) and profiteering is not acceptable, especially from companies which are being protected from competition. Three steps’ll do it:

  1. An immediate huge sale of oil and gas leases on federal land but only to those who will both drill immediately on the new leaseholds and increase production from their current holdings. This is an offer that the oil company investors won’t be able to say no to because they run the risk that their competitors will get the leases.
  2. Expedited permitting – really expedited – but, again, only for those who will increase production now on existing and newly permitted locations. If some permitting is being expedited, some will get delayed. Those who don’t want to increase production can wait.
  3. A windfall profits tax. I’m a free-market fiscal conservative. However, since we’re protecting these companies from Russian, Iranian, and Venezuelan competition, they are not operating in a free market. They are benefitting from the embargos. Because our goal is increased production, companies should be able to escape the excess profits tax by plowing those profits back into immediately increased drilling.

The first two steps can and should be taken by executive order. The President, who has been very strong in his support of Ukraine, needs to defy the extreme left of his party and get the oil flowing that’ll let us and our allies deny Putin his energy weapon. The third step takes Congressional action which should happen in the lame duck session after the election. Some on the right will object to the windfall profits tax. Some in the middle will try to protect the oil companies. The left won’t want an exception for more drilling. Nevertheless, when Americans get their oil bills this winter, there’ll be plenty of public support for making sure oil companies don’t get to profiteer during a war by sitting on their assets.

See also:

OPEC Plus Wants $100/Barrel (So Does Big Oil)

The Dynamo of Democracy

October 20, 2022

Amazon Algorithm Confirms My Bias

Monday I blogged the good news that the latest UN study projects world population topping out late in this century and then declining. I opined that this is yet one more good reason to avoid climate panic and act rationally  and effectively.

Tuesday Amazon sent me an email with the suggestions below:

Amazon

The projected population decline, although not the UN report which is very recent, Is one of the highlights of Ten Global Trends. The need to avoid climate panic is the thesis of False Alarm.

“Hmm,” I thought, “Amazon is reading my blog and basing suggestions on it.” Turns out not to be true and I don’t read my posts to Alexa either.

“Everybody now thinks (and writes) what I think,” I thought next. Wrong again.

The explanation is very simple: I ordered Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet from Amazon last week. Jeff Bezos thought I’d like to read more of the same.

Can’t blame Amazon for selling me more like what I already read. What would be really useful for society, although not for selling books, would be to suggest books on the same subject but with a different point of view rather than reinforcing the biases I already have. Not sure I’d buy them, though.

See also: Malthus Was Very Wrong

October 17, 2022

Malthus Was Very Wrong

Time to rethink almost everything.

In 2019 the UN Population Report predicted that the world population would reach 10.9 billion people by 2100 and still be growing. In the 2022 version of that report, the population is expected to peak at 10.4 billion people during the 2080s. “Today,” according to the UN, “two-thirds of the global population lives in a country or area where lifetime fertility is below 2.1 births per woman, roughly the level required for zero growth in the long run for a population with low mortality.”

1-Total population

Much of the population increase in the short term comes from an increase in life expectancy. We geezers don’t contribute new fertile members of society. By 2100, the UN predicts the fertility rate worldwide will be well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman (see graph below). If so, world population will be declining.

6-Total fertility

Predictions, can, of course, be wrong and, as we see, are subject to revision. Experience is leading to successively lower population estimates. The trend towards lower fertility with greater affluence is the exact opposite of Malthus’ assertion that population will grow as resources grow and always outstrip resources. Hard for him to imagine either effective birth control or women being in control of reproduction. Lower and lower population growth is already baked in for the next few decades because there are simply fewer women of child-bearing age and below than there were (the number of men is largely irrelevant).

China is a prime example. Its population has already peaked and is poised for precipitous decline. The one-child policy and the preference of parents for a male child doomed it to shrinking population for at least the rest of the century.

China

So what’s this all mean?

There is some significant bad news. As the populations age rapidly, there are less and less working people to support each of us retired geezers. Social security trust funds are in danger. Even if we saved enough for retirement, who is going to grow the food and make the goods we still consume? Who’s going to fix stuff that breaks? Less workers and more consumers means… inflation.

But there is more good news. Eventually declining populations need less food and goods. For a while total demand will increase as populations come out of poverty; but, as populations eventually decline, demand stabilizes and then decreases.

We won’t have as many workers but those we do have will be more productive because of technological progress in energy, agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, communication, and logistics. After a painful transition, we can have a world of abundance. Abundance means… deflation. Sure, as goods get cheaper there will be some increase in demand, but it’ll be easily satisfied.

The future will be very different and can be much better!

One example: Today we have a critical shortage of lithium to make batteries; that’s a real problem because we need so many new batteries. But fast-forward twenty years to when all cars are electric and the car population is shrinking rather than growing along with the human population. Lithium is close to 100% recyclable so lithium from retiring batteries is sufficient for new batteries. Almost no mining required. Yes, we have to get through the next couple of decades; but then the problems really do shrink and disappear.

Another example: as food poverty (which is largely a problem of war, corruption, and logistics now) is solved and population declines, less acres need to be in agriculture. More acres can be reforested. Net greenhouse gas emissions go down. Less yield is needed per acre so less pressure to use fertilizer and pesticides. Spot delivery of nutrition and protection by GPS-guided farm tools also reduce the impact of agriculture. Nirvana so long as we can get there

And energy: demand will shrink both with population and continuing technical progress. My 100-watt incandescent bulbs are replaced with 6 watt (or less) LEDs. The fuel efficiency of gasoline cars has greatly increased; electric cars need even less energy. Direct drive motors are more efficient than their predecessors. Heat pumps, in appropriate climates, use much less energy than radiant heat per BTU generated. Natural gas is cheaper and less polluting than coal. Batteries will get better.

We have a transition problem, not an existential emergency.

We don’t have to do dumb things like turning one-third of our corn into motor fuel, blocking pipelines from where energy is found to where it’s needed, or slow-rolling drilling permits. We have time to build new, smaller nukes. We can and should continue to deploy wind and solar so long as we make sure there is a grid capable of sharing the load and sufficient backup whether that is battery, natural gas peakers, hydro, or something else.

It's now obvious that Europe shouldn’t have out-sourced fossil fuel extraction to Russia. Knowing that population trends are already in favor of energy reduction, Europe should whole-heartedly (safely, of course) resume drilling and get fracking. More natural gas allows for more renewables.

Once we are free from panic induced by latter-day Malthusian prophets of doom (who are ignoring “the science”), we can deal with the immediate threat, Putin and his energy weapon, and the intermediate threat, too many geezers and too few workers, and plan our way to a future of abundance.

See also:

World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights

World Population Prospects 2022: Summary of Results

Factfulness: Malthus is Wrong – Fortunately

October 11, 2022

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels – Continued

Hybrid generation is the best way to environmental goals.

Emmissions

In 2008 fracking came into widespread use in US gas fields.  Between 2008 and 2020 we reduced our CO2 emissions by 25%. This reduction was largely a result of substituting low-cost low-carbon natural gas for dirty coal in electrical generation. In 2008 49% of our electricity was generated from coal and 22% from natural gas. By 2020 only 19% of our electricity was generated from coal and the natural gas share increased to 41%. During the same period inflation adjusted-electricity prices actually declined because, thanks to fracking, natural gas was now cheaper than coal per kilowatt of electricity generated.

Renewables also substituted for coal. From 2008 to 2020 the percentage of electricity generated from solar and wind went from 1% to 10%. This increase is significant; however, it wouldn’t have happened if natural gas weren’t available when the sun didn’t shine and the wind didn’t blow. Because natural gas generators can spool up and down quickly, they are an enabling companion for sun and wind. Cheap natural gas also sheltered ratepayers from the above-market rates paid to renewable generators; but the total cost of wind and solar have come down quickly; so further deployment of renewables makes sense – as long as we have natural gas to back it up.

What happened in 2021?

If you look carefully at the graph above, you’ll see that energy related CO2 emissions spiked back up in 2021. So did electricity prices. Why? Because we shot ourselves in the foot! US natural gas supply decreased substantially almost entirely because of government hostility to drilling and pipeline building after the 2020 election. If you don’t continuously drill new wells, supply decreases as old wells go dry. We didn’t notice at first because the pandemic cut demand. Once the economy emerged from shutdown, we didn’t have enough natural gas. Coal for electrical generation usage went up from 19% to 22% as natural gas prices shot up and regional shortage developed. Natural gas usage went down from 41% to 38%. Electricity prices went up for the first time in more than a decade. Wind and solar did increase their share but not enough to offset increased CO2 from more coal burning. Several regions came perilously close to grid shutdowns because there wasn’t enough natural gas to back up the increased wind and solar.

And now there’s a war

Europe is learning its lesson thanks to a powerful slap from Putin. What’s happening there is a terrible object lesson in the harm that’s done to people, the economy, and the environment from an attempt to ban all fossil fuels indiscriminately and before substitutes are available. Because natural gas is a fossil fuel, anti-fracking advocates were able to dissuade European nations from developing new supply or even maintaining the flow from existing fields (which always requires new drilling). The result: Europe is burning much more coal than it has for years just to keep the lights on. The skies of Europe may be literally black with coal smoke if there’s a cold winter.

Europe is pledged to add carbon-free electricity sources to their grid. However, they can’t add more wind and solar without a supply of natural gas to provide backup any more than we can here. Battery technology and capability is not nearly at the point where excess solar and wind can be stored for future use in any meaningful quantities. Brussels has now recognized natural gas as a green “transition” fuel and investments in natural gas infrastructure are allowed again. The UK’s new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, has announced an end to that country’s ban on fracking and her intention to grant a 100 new oil and gas leases.

We and our European friends can and must build electrical grids where natural gas backup power as well as nuclear are integrated with a renewable buildout.

But what about the environment?

Each year forests and other vegetation absorb up to a third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels. The implications are clear: if we reduce emissions from fossil fuels by two-thirds and preserve our vegetative cover, we will be at zero net emissions. We will NOT be increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. If we reduce emissions a little further or plant more trees, we’ll start to reduce the concentration of CO2 and temperatures should start to decline if atmospheric models from the UN are correct.

Even if natural gas remains part of the generation mix forever and is not replaced by hydrogen or batteries or nuclear fusion, we can achieve the 2/3 reduction in emissions necessary to stabilize atmospheric CO2. We can relatively cheaply eliminate coal (twice the CO2 emitted per kilowatt-hour generated as natural gas). We can build new nukes and deploy more renewables. We can electrify further with a clean enough electricity supply. But, at least for now, we must allow ourselves to use natural gas to balance the renewables and replace the coal.

Insisting that “all” fossil fuel use be eliminated has resulted in more coal being burned and a dangerous reliance on Russian fuel. A two-third reduction in net emissions in a reasonable time is doable if not easy. The world as we know it doesn’t have to end. Good news.

See also:

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels

The Dynamo of Democracy

October 05, 2022

OPEC Plus Wants $100/Barrel (So Does Big Oil)

Let’s push prices down to $40. We can do that.

OPEC Plus, the extended oil cartel co-chaired by Saudi Arabia and Russia, is planning to announce a substantial cut in production when it meets today (Oct. 5), according to a story in The New York Times. Oil prices have fallen to approximately $85/barrel, about 25% lower than the peak they reached just after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and close to where they were when the invasion happened. The decline is partially a result of a worsening outlook for the world’s economy as well as the release of a substantial part of the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve (which has helped keep prices down at the pump in the runup to the 2022 US elections).

Even $85 barrel is a substantial increase from the $38/barrel price in November 2020 when Joe Biden beat Donald Trump. Almost all the rise in oil prices is because of a post-pandemic increase in demand and a decrease in supply. US oil production was 12,289,000 barrels/day in pre-pandemic year 2019. In 2021 our production was down to 11,188,000 barrels/day. It is no secret that Biden’s policy has been to discourage US production. That policy worked, in part because the major oil companies are happy to play green and keep their oil in the ground (worked great for them) while the wildcatters who typically drill fast and force prices down have been stymied by pressure against investment in fossil fuels and a hostile regulatory environment.

Europe also declined to drill and instead pretended to be green by increasingly outsourcing energy supply to Russia. Russia might not have dared to invade Ukraine if world oil were still selling at $38 because Russia’s price of production, factoring in corruption, is probably close to $40. Once world prices more than doubled to $89 just before the invasion, Russian profit went from close to nothing per barrel to $49. That why the ruble rose instead of falling in response to western sanctions and that extra revenue has so far financed Russia’s invasion (as well as emboldening Iran).

US oil production is now slowly increasing but still hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels. Why should oil companies invest in increased production when the administration is both protecting them from competition and slow rolling both leasing and permitting? Biden went begging to Saudi Arabia for more production. Before the invasion, he even asked Russia to produce more. Now the strategic reserve is at record low levels; even Manchin’s mild permitting reforms have been sunk by politics; and OPEC Pus has given Biden a middle-finger answer: “We’re going to cut production further to drive prices higher!” Higher prices will give them more net profit even though the volume of sales will be down.

Let’s push prices down to $40. Here are the short term actions to take:

  1. Accelerate leasing on public lands but only to those who promise to drill immediately on new and old leaseholds, otherwise majors will just add to their reserves in the ground.
  2. Expedite electric grid, renewable, pipeline and drilling permitting by agencies and set a time limit on legal appeals against granted permits without lowering environmental standards (essentially what Manchin proposed). To the extent that renewables can substitute for fossil fuels, the price of fossil fuels goes down. Expedited permitting should favor those who will build immediately.
  3. Institute a windfall profits tax on oil and natural gas which can be avoided by putting “excess” profits into immediate new production or by lowering prices. We are protecting the major oil from Russian competition with sanctions; and so a windfall profits tax is not only appropriate but necessary.
  4. Stop discouraging lending to wildcatter who historically drill fast and drive prices down but are always short of capital.
  5. Don’t close any nuclear plant which can safely continue running. The only short-term replacement for nuclear power is burning more fossil fuel which keeps both emissions and energy prices up.
  6. Stop pretending that it is good environmental policy to move drilling to Russia where environmental standards are notoriously weak rather than have it happen here where we can regulate it.

Europe is belatedly reversing its ill-advised outsourcing to Russia and increasing its own oil and natural gas production as well as building more renewable capacity.

Renewables (and nuclear) must go further to compete with $40 oil and reasonably priced natural gas; so providers of these alternatives also prefer higher oil prices and claim oil prices are an environmental necessity.  However the environmental cost of high oil and natural gas prices is more burning of dirty coal (see Germany and even the US)as well as the terrible pollution of war.

With oil at $40, the Russian genie goes back in the lamp. Iran must avoid expensive foreign ventures and has less ability to bribe its populace to do the bidding of the mullahs. China does not get an advantage by buying Russian oil at a discount. Dirty Russian production of new oil – as well as other environmentally expensive extraction schemes - are too expensive to be profitable. The world cannot afford and doesn’t have to accept the consequences of $100 oil.

See also:

Neither High Energy Costs nor Dependence on Russian Energy are Acceptable

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels

Defeating Putin Requires Winning the Energy War

High Oil and Gas Prices Fuel Russian and Iranian Aggressiveness

September 26, 2022

Cold War 2.0, the Environment, and the Economy Require Passing Manchin’s Permitting Reform

Republicans must save it from Progressives even if Democrats get the credit.

Senator Joe Manchin’s own explanation of the reform and the urgent reasons for it are in op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. The journal article is behind a pay wall but the content is the statement of a public official so I’m posting it here to make sure you can see it.

Both Parties Should Support My Permitting-Reform Bill

It will help secure our energy future by slashing the time it takes to build critical infrastructure.

Congress votes this week on the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022. It’s a defining moment. Will we promote energy security and independence, or will we allow extreme ideologies and politics to embolden our nation’s enemies? Will we allow toxic tribal politics and the Vladimir Putins of the world to dictate our future, or will we protect our nation’s energy security?

We are in the midst of a global energy war, and the American people—Republican, Democrat and independent—are paying the price. Contrary to the radical agenda of Sen. Bernie Sanders and his allies, who seem oblivious to the reality of the global and domestic energy challenges we face, the common-sense permitting reforms contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 will help cut costs and accelerate the building of the critical energy infrastructure we need. Some have said the legislation was crafted without Republican input or that it would make it harder for fossil fuels to be permitted. They are simply wrong. They aren’t being honest about what’s in the bill and how it came to be.

Democrats and Republicans, along with leaders in the energy industry and stakeholders of all stripes, were instrumental in the substance of this balanced legislation. These essential reforms have been advocated by developers of all types of American energy—oil and gas, electric transmission, mining, solar and wind, and more. In fact, it is the kind of balanced and all-of-the-above energy approach America needs if we are to defend this nation’s energy security from those who seem hell-bent on weakening it.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022, and the permitting reform it lays out, will help secure America’s energy future more quickly by setting deadlines and requiring simultaneous agency reviews, something we did for public-works projects in the bipartisan infrastructure law. This reform will reduce timelines for building critical infrastructure down to three years or less from the current five to 10 years (or more). This will bring the U.S. more in line with our allies in Canada and Australia.

Speeding up the permitting process is an idea that countless Democrats support when it comes to clean energy. Many of my Republican colleagues signed up for it earlier this month as cosponsors of the Simplify Timelines and Assure Regulatory Transparency Act. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 also shortens unnecessary litigation delays by capping how long plaintiffs have to bring lawsuits and requiring agencies to act within six months on permits that have been sent back by a court.

Permitting reform has long been a priority for advocacy groups representing a diverse mix of energy companies and stakeholders across the political spectrum. During my 12 years in the Senate, trade groups have urged Republicans and Democrats to join forces and speed up the permitting process in a responsible manner to ensure America’s energy independence and security. Now’s our chance. Whether you support more clean energy, more fossil fuels, or a balanced approach as I do, this reform will help the U.S. achieve it. It’s time to bring forward smart bipartisan ideas to produce the energy we need to continue to be the superpower of the world.

Even during this historic moment, some say it isn’t enough. They stand in the way of major progress on realistic reforms. Instead they offer a wish list with no chance of passing an evenly divided Senate. We’ve seen this story before, and inaction is no longer an option, for the energy crisis will only get worse the longer we wait. If we’re truly interested in addressing the energy challenges facing our country, then it’s time to live in the realm of the possible instead of continuing to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

When looked at objectively, this legislation and the underlying reforms should be a unifying moment for both parties. Instead, extreme politics are blinding some to the realities of what we must do to keep our energy future secure for generations to come. What else could possibly explain why any Republican would even consider supporting the same position as Sen. Sanders when it comes to energy?

At such a consequential moment in our nation’s history, now is the time for those fortunate enough to be elected leaders to push away the noise of partisan politics that is drowning out common sense. We must ignore the toxic “all or nothing” legislative approach that has made it hard to discern what is truly essential for our nation. Passing the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 is essential, and not only because it includes smart ideas and proposals that both my Republican and Democratic colleagues have championed for years, but also because it will send a message to the world that the U.S. won’t let anyone threaten or undermine its energy security.

****************************end of Manchin text*******************************

See also:

If Sanders and Warren Think Climate Change Is an Emergency, Why Are They Against These Green Energy Reforms? (from Reason)

Joe Manchin’s Red Tape Reform Could Supercharge Renewable Energy in the U.S. (from Time)

Manchin’s Regulatory Reform Proposal Needed for All Energy

September 20, 2022

US National Climate Advisor Misses the Cost of Climate Hysteria

No job losses, she claims, ignoring the news from Europe.

Two headlines

Both headlines above are from the front page of Monday's digital NY Times.

Gina McCarthy is a former EPA Administrator and the outgoing US National Climate Advisor. Her article lauds projected increases in electric vehicle sales and wind power in the United States and the subsidies the Biden administration has gotten through Congress towards those goals. She ignores, of course, rising energy costs caused by the Biden Administration war on drilling and pipelines. In a narrow sense, she is right that the US economy is still doing very well.

But then there are our friends in Europe. See the headline above on the right and the associated story. Many factories there cannot afford to operate given their current energy costs. Production is shifting from Europe, often to the US; but beggaring our allies is not a good strategy for world peace, the world economy, or the environment. World prices for oil are lower than they were before Russia invaded Ukraine but much higher than they were when Biden took office. Those prices went up and stayed up because the US is producing less oil than it did previously and than it could be producing now. You can thank Gina McCarthy and her boss for that shortfall.

Putin didn’t as much cause high energy prices as take advantage of them both to finance his Ukrainian mis-adventure and to attempt to coerce his European customers into acquiescence. Russia’s refusal to send gas to Europe has further increased the cost of that commodity as well as electricity which is mostly generated from natural gas despite the European rush to renewables.  There simply would not be enough gas to keep Europeans warm and run their factories this winter if the US were not shipping huge supplies there. Good thing for everybody that we didn’t ban fracking the way that most of Europe did – and the way the Biden administration would still like to do here.

Europe’s vulnerability stems from climate hysteria. There’s nothing wrong (except maybe the cost) with deploying wind and solar as Europe had done. There’s everything wrong with banning fracking and refusing new leases for oil and gas before a green alternative is in place. Europeans told themselves they were being green when they outsourced their growing need for natural gas and oil to Russia. Germans felt particularly environmental when they decided to shut down their nukes in an over-reaction to Fukushima. Now they’re trying to keep the last few nukes running and burning massive amounts of coal. Still they can’t keep the factories running.

In the short term, Americans are gaining jobs as European production shuts down and/or can’t compete. For our own  future, we must look at what’s happening to Europe now as an object lesson in what happens if you shut down traditional energy sources before you actually have a domestic replacement.

Postscript

Someone beside me may have noticed that irony of the juxtaposition of these stories on the digital front page of the NYT. The headline in Gina McCarthy’s story by Monday afternoon was:

McCarthy

See also:

The Dynamo of Democracy

Neither High Energy Costs nor Dependence on Russian Energy are Acceptable

September 19, 2022

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels

The distinction is essential to an achievable climate strategy.

In the introduction to its May 2022 special issue SAVING FORESTS, National Geographic says “Each year forests and other vegetation absorb up to a third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels.” The implications of that statement are clear: if we reduce emissions from fossil fuels by two-thirds and preserve our vegetative cover, we will be at zero net emissions. We will NOT be increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. If we reduce emissions a little further or plant more trees, we’ll start to reduce the concentration of CO2 and temperatures should start to decline if atmospheric models from the UN are correct.

The SAVING FORESTS issue gives many examples of using trees to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester carbon in the ground including better management of existing forests, reforesting abandoned farmland, controlled burns, and replanting burned areas with a mix of species less likely to fuel infernos. All these cost money; the logical question to ask, project by project, is “does this project remove more CO2 from the atmosphere per dollar spent than, for example, subsidizing electric cars?” But the question is never asked. Any money allocated to planting more trees must, apparently, be in addition to the nearly limitless cost of eliminating all fossil fuels.

On page 73 of SAVING FORESTS, in an otherwise excellent article on threats to trees, author Craig Welch contradicts the introduction and writes “The planet won’t stop warming until we completely [emphasis mine] halt fossil fuel emissions.” This is nonsense, of course, because it’s only net emissions which count. Earth isn’t punishing us for the hubris of burning fossil fuels.; but authors like Welch typically include a ritualistic condemnation of all fossil fuels in their articles to protect themselves from the suspicion that they are proposing carbon reduction methods which might compete with eliminating fossil fuels. They are intimidated by the green industrial complex which brooks no challenge to any of its schemes to replace fossil fuels no mater how impractical, slow, or expensive. That means that tree-plantings aren’t allowed to compete for climate mitigation dollars with schemes like subsidies for electric cars or reliance on battery technologies which don’t exist yet.

Equating the end of all fossil fuel use with the net zero goal means that we don’t prioritize our reductions because “all” fossil fuels are bad. If we confuse the goal of zero net emissions with a needless jihad to replace all fossil fuels, we squander wealth, deny people a way out of poverty, and quickly forfeit support for the programs necessary to reduce emissions.

A two-third reduction in net emissions in a reasonable time is doable if not easy. The world as we know it doesn’t have to end. Good news.

The National Geographic issue on trees is full of good strategies for maintaining and even increasing plant-based reductions in net emissions. But fear of offending the all-fossil-fuels-must-go crowd prevents the magazine from following its own facts to reasonable conclusions and policy recommendations.

See also:

Trees v. Solar Panels

Vermont Can Exceed 2025 Carbon Reduction Goal Just by Planting Trees

The Science Behind the Trillion Tree Campaign

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels – Continued (Hybrid generation is the best way to environmental goals)

 

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 01/2005