April 02, 2020

Good News: This is the Last Viral Pandemic

Back in 2015 Bill Gates wrote in his blog:

“The world is simply not prepared to deal with a disease—an especially virulent flu, for example—that infects large numbers of people very quickly. Of all the things that could kill 10 million people or more, by far the most likely is an epidemic.”

He was right. This year, in an interview you may already have seen, Bill explains what we should have done and now can do to prevent another pandemic.

Even since 2015, medical and computing technology have advanced so far that, given a year or two, we can make sure this doesn’t happen again at an almost trivial price compared to what a pandemic itself costs. Since it is human nature to always arm for the last war, I’m confident that we the world will do what needs to be done to cancel at least viral pandemics. Doesn’t mean we won’t face other catastrophes, but we can put this threat behind us.

One reason that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates understands what must be done to fight human viruses is that computer viruses are very good models of the human pathogens they are named after. Even better, lessons learned in keeping computers safe can save human lives

Computer viruses

A computer virus captures your machine and forces it to send out replicas of itself to infect other machines.  A human virus forces your cells to make zillions of replicas of its nasty self; if it’s a respiratory virus, it forces you to cough and sneeze to infect other people. Gastrointestinal viruses cause you to spew liquids. Yuk.

Both human and computer viruses spread “virally” (of course), so long as each infected person or machine infects more than one other person or machine. Once the transmission rate goes below one, the infection dies out in the human and computer population.

For computer viruses we all run anti-virus software which detects known incoming viruses and blocks them before they can do damage. Since new viruses are created by evil hackers all the time, the software must be updated constantly with new detection methods for new viruses. This updating happens in the background and we don’t pay much attention to it. New viruses still claim some victims; but, once they are known, new detection and destruction algorithms are developed (sometimes automatically) and distributed before the virus can become epidemic.

Human viruses

Human viruses are made of genetic material (RNA or DNA). They each have a distinct fingerprint. The human immune system learns this fingerprint and builds a chemical template to not only recognize the virus but to neutralize it. The immune system doesn’t forget; it keeps the virus description filled away for future use. That’s why we have an immunity to most viruses assuming we survive them. Vaccination is effective against viruses because it teaches our immune system what to look for and how to disable it BEFORE the actual attack.

Each year we update our flu vaccine to keep up with continual mutation of the flu virus. Enough of us are vaccinated or have immunity because we’ve had a similar virus so that the annual flu “only” takes 290,000 to 600,000 lives/year according to the World Health Organization. Many people that an infected person comes in contact with are immune; and so the spread rate is kept low enough for our medical people and infrastructure to cope.

The virus which causes COVID-19 is called a “novel” coronavirus because no human has ever had It before. None of us has an immunity; there is no vaccine for it. When a community or family is first exposed, everyone is a potential steppingstone for the virus. Stopping the spread is extremely difficult before we have a good and speedy way to identify who is infected, before we have effective treatment, and before we have a vaccine.

We may have good detection for coronavirus in the next few weeks and good distribution of the detection kits shortly thereafter; that will slow the spread but not before a terrible price has been paid. With luck we may soon have medicines which are effective against it; but they do have to tested both for efficacy and possible side effects and then manufactured in large quantities. We won’t have a vaccine safe enough for mass distribution before the end of this year at the earliest.

Fast forward a few years and this doesn’t happen again

We can and will use the tremendous advances in gene science over the last decade to develop the super-computer powered ability to recognize even a novel virus within days if not hours of having a sample – just as we do with computer viruses.

For respiratory viruses there will be machines like breathalyzers readily available all over the world (perhaps they will even be used as breathalyzers) which can recognize specific genetic material. These are analogous to the virus detection software you already have on your computer. These breathalyzers will be updated constantly with the super-computer developed detected algorithms for each new virus emerging from the bat cave or wherever. Testing will be easy, cheap, and almost immediate. Contact tracing and selective quarantine can happen as fast as they are needed. Similarly, detection mechanisms for gastrointestinal pathogens may be built into smart toilets. Just fast detection will be an enormous step.

But, better yet, we will be able to able to use genetic recognition capability to fabricate vaccines which need minimal testing before being widely used. Machines to manufacture the vaccine will just download the pattern and we can have huge supplies almost immediately. Early detection will give us time to test the vaccines; we may pre-manufacture some when a new virus is detected just in case it becomes epidemic. It’s our own antibodies, again like preloaded antivirus software, which will fight off infection as soon as there is a vaccine to tell them what to look for.

It’s a little more of a stretch but I think we will similarly be able to do quick and safe fabrication of new pattern-based medicines to help those who do get infected.

BTW, annual flu deaths will also be vastly reduced with these same capabilities – assuming people do get vaccinated.

We don’t need to have another pandemic.

We do need to get through this one. Please stay safe and join me in thanking the heroes who are working while we self-isolate. One of the great pleasures after the pandemic will be figuring out how to reward them.

March 16, 2020

Don’t Bail Out the Oil Industry (or the Banks)

Economic justice and capitalist principles agree.

We need relief for the people who are laid off or can’t work because the schools are closed and their children need care. We don’t need and shouldn’t have relief for large businesses or banks; been there and done that in that last recession.

I have lots of friends in the oil and gas industry. I wish them no ill and even believe that their constructive use of fracking and horizontal drilling has made America stronger and richer. In the course of this bust and boom cycle (and many before it), large fortunes have been made. Doesn’t bother me a bit when the fortunes go to those who took risks or were innovative. One of the risks they took in exchange for their wealth, however, was that one day a bell would ring and the next bust cycle would be upon them.

Ding. The bell rang when the coronavirus shock was too much for the unholy Saudi-Russian alliance. Down came oil prices.

Economic justice

 Intolerable income equality comes from creating a ratchet where wealth can be gained but never lost. The rich have more to lose and lose more when assets lose value. Bailing out the banks and others in 2008 was a huge mistake both because it left assets over-priced and in incompetent hands and because it took the risk out of risk/reward. Economic justice requires that the people can both get rich and unrich.

Wealth which just keeps growing becomes so powerful that it tends to monopolize future wealth creation. It dominates both the political and the economic sphere. Recessions are “nature’s” way of making sure fortunes don’t grow to the sky. Bailouts interfere with that natural cycle. They are a constant threat because the rich have political power.

If oil prices are allowed to continue crashing (as they will for a while absent a bailout), consumers will benefit. This is the same as a tax cut except that it doesn’t compete for government money and it is progressive in the sense that the rich spend very little of their income on heat and transportation. Cheap oil is a great stimulus.

Cold hard capitalism

Let’s assume we DON’T bail out the oil companies. Many will stop drilling whether we bail them out or not. Some of them will go bankrupt. That’s what Putin thinks he wants so that they’ll stop taking Russia’s marketshare and he can raise prices again. But he’s wrong.

Let’s say oil has crashed to $20/barrel. Could easily happen. The price of oil won’t be enough to both pay the loans that financed the drilling and pay the incremental costs of production. Many drilling rigs will end up lying down; wells will be capped or never completed.  So far, so good for Putin. But then what?

When the oil companies go bankrupt, their assets don’t disappear. The banks (who shouldn’t be bailed out either) will have to sell these assets for any price they can get. Eventually someone with some money and lots of nerve will buy them for a song. The assets are in the hands of innovators. Now there are no loans to be paid off; just workers to be paid and wells that were near completion. Now land with drilling rights is available for a song. So, when Putin and the Saudi’s try to raise prices because their populations are restive, the capped wells with no great debt burden get uncapped; the debt-free rigs get raised; and American oil is back supplying not only America but most of the rest of the world. Whoops.

If we bail out the oil industry so it can keep charging higher prices and survive, if we bail out the banks which lent to them, if save them both from bankruptcy, we let Russia and Saudi Arabia charge more for longer. We delay the day when we’re back in the game. Meanwhile our consumers and manufacturers pay higher prices than if there were no bailout.

The above isn’t economic theory; it all happened four years ago when Saudi Arabia tried to crush American frackers and drove prices from $100/barrel to under $30. One year later oil was back up to $45 and Americans were back taking market share from Saudi Arabia and Russia. Once the debt was relieved and innovation let loose, we could compete at the new lower price.

Bubbles and busts are part of the cycle of economic growth. Bubbles make capital come flooding into finance assets until there are more assets than demand for the product the assets produce. Bankruptcy lowers the cost of the asset and the product produced by the assets enabling future growth in demand.

In the 19th century there were railroad bubbles. Too many railroads got built. Fortunes were made… and then lost as many of the railroads went bankrupt because there wasn’t enough freight to pay the debt. But, after bankruptcy, there were lower freight prices. Crops could get to market economically. Freight increased. Cue the next cycle.

Same thing happened with the Internet bubble. It attracted too much capital; there was a bust; assets were priced down. Cheap always-on Internet service became available. Good times were here again.

And in conclusion

It would be an economic injustice to bail out the oi companies and the banks which financed them; another bailout will (and should) bring the tea party and the socialists out in force. A bailout would also be economic folly; it’ll help block the road to America’s recovery. Meanwhile, low gas and heating oil prices are just what the doctor would’ve ordered if she weren’t so busy treating the virus.

See also:

Why we need bubbles

We’ve Been T*RPed

Election Analysis: It Was TARP that Boiled the Tea

March 13, 2020

It’s Time for Mandatory Vaccinations

Even though there’s no vaccine for COVIX-19 yet, it’s important to reduce all burdens on the medical system which may soon be overwhelmed with coronavirus cases. State governments should change their laws to eliminate philosophical and religious exemptions for those vaccinations which are already mandatory; doctors who give phony medical exemptions should be punished.

It’s almost the end of flu season, but flu has the same symptoms as coronavirus. Almost everyone with flu will need to isolate themselves and will require coronavirus testing; severe cases of flu will unnecessarily compete with coronavirus cases for hospital facilities. Even though the flu vaccine may be no more than 75% effective for an individual, immunity for 75% of the population greatly slows the spread of disease since there are less carriers and less targets for it to jump to. This phenomenon is called herd immunity.

If you haven’t had your flu shot, you should do so.

If there is enough vaccine available (I don’t know whether there is), flu shots should be made mandatory to avoid flu cases masquerading as coronavirus. State governments including Vermont’s should look into this immediately.

In years to come, when there may or may not be other pandemics, flu shots should be mandatory and we should consider making proof of vaccination or certified exemption required for purchasing airline and maybe even train and bus tickets.

Mandatory vaccination does pose a tradeoff between individual liberty and societal good. I think its justified to draft everyone able to serve into the war against pandemics.

See also:

Why Vaccinations Need to be Mandatory

March 09, 2020

Live on WDEV

Tomorrow morning (March 10)  at 11AM ET I'll be on WDEV (96.1 FM, 550 AM) in VT with Bill Sayre discussing plant-based strategies for CO2 drawdown and the surprising silence about the new IEA report that emissions have flatlined.. Streaming at https://wdevradio.com/stream/. It's a callin so you can question and opine as well.

Good Climate News Travels Very Slowly

Plants to the Rescue

Good Climate News Travels Very Slowly

Back on February 11, the International Energy Agency (IEA) put out a press release with the headline: “Defying expectations of a rise, global carbon dioxide emissions flatlined in 2019”. This news, as they point out, is startling; almost universally expectations were that global emissions will be locked in an upward ramp for years to come; this belief is at the core of the most drastic climate predictions. The IEA is the world’s scorekeeper for things having to do with energy and is quoted almost very time they publish a statistic about oil prices, the effect of the coronavirus on energy demand, or climate. Moreover, the emissions reported by the IEA for 2019 are BELOW those in the UN’s most rosy climate prediction scenario.

What kind of press coverage did this release get? Just about NADA!

If you search the NY Times online for stories containing IEA since Feb. 11, there are four; this story isn’t among them. I do know that the Times had the AP story on this up for a while but don’t think it made it to the print edition.

If you search the Wall Street Journal there are ten stories in the time period quoting the IEA on various subjects. The story on emissions is not one of them.

Time.com has a story. MSNBC picked up the Time story. CNBC has an abbreviated story.

No other significant media is in eight pages of google results you get if you google the headline and IEA. Coverage is so sparse that my blog post about this is on the first page of these google results (it didn’t go viral).

So why no coverage?

You could say that the NY Times doesn’t want to do anything to reduce climate alarm. But what about the WSJ? They have been decrying alarmist views on climate. @realdonaldtrump hasn’t tweeted about this either. I was at a conference on carbon sequestration by plants last week (more about that to come). Scientists there, who care passionately about climate issues, hadn’t heard this news and I had to show some of them the press release to be believed.

I think the truth is that this story is so unexpected that it breaks a narrative we’ve all been trained on: “Emissions just keep going up and up, especially when the economy is good as it was last year. The problem is getting worse and worse. Nothing we have been doing has any effect. Greta has cause to give up on all.” All of a sudden we see some hope: a combination of renewables, abundant natural gas, and new nuclear replaced so much coal use in developed countries that increased emissions in the developing world were completely offset. An all-of-the-above approach seems to be working. It’s hard to process this hopeful sign. Some people’s preconceptions of the futility of renewables is challenged (this includes me); on the other hand, nuclear and natural gas have shown their value. No one from denialist to alarmist knows what to do with this expectation-defying news, and so it’s being ignored for now.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling gives many current examples of good news being ignored. If he were still alive, he might add this story of a possible turning point to his list.

This may not be a turning point. Although 2020 emissions will almost certainly be lower than those in 2019 thanks to the coronavirus, they could go back up again. We are still putting more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere than nature takes out; and so overall concentrations are still rising. Nevertheless, this is significant news. If nothing else, it tells us what is working and what we should continue working on.

Read also:

Factfulness: Malthus is Wrong – Fortunately

A Convenient Urgency

“Defying expectations of a rise, global carbon dioxide emissions flatlined in 2019” – IEA

March 02, 2020

Trees v. Solar Panels

How would you best spend a million dollars if your goal is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG)? Trees or solar panels?

One million dollars buys about two acres of solar panels installed. Two acres of solar panels in Vermont should generate about 490 Megawatt (MWh) hours of electricity annually. The average CO2 emissions per MWh of electricity in the New England grid in 2017 was 682 lbs. or .309 metric tons (MT); that means your million dollars buys 151 MT of annual emission reduction at a capital of $6590/MT.  Of course, the cost goes up if you need a long connection to the grid or grid capacity must be enhanced to handle generation where you’re feeding the power in. The CO2 savings go down if replacement electricity must be purchased on sunless days. But we’ll ignore those negatives for the sake of this comparison.

One million dollars could buy and reforest 250 acres of abandoned or marginal farmland even if we assume that some mitigation of pollution on the land makes the cost $4000 acre. New forest land well-planted will store (sequester) at least 2.6MT of CO2 annually per acre in the tree trunks, on the forest floor, and in the soil. The annual CO2 removed from the atmosphere by your 250 acres is about 650 metric tons, more than 4 times the savings you got with solar panels! The capital per annual MT eliminated is only $1363/ton. We’ll ignore the additional benefits of helping to clean the lake and providing an exit to farmers whose dairy operations are no longer productive. Trees win anyway.

 

Both forest and solar panels require some maintenance; the forest maintenance is cheaper.  Solar panels will need to be replaced in twenty or twenty-five years (probably at lower cost and better effectiveness); but the trees will just be maturing then. Their carbon sequestration rate will go down a little as they get older but not much. If wood is being harvested (sustainably) and used to build things, the sequestration rate goes up and there is income from the wood.

In Vermont we have a million acres of land that are or were used for dairy pasturing, hay, and corn; a lot of it is for sale. We have better opportunity for GHG reduction than most states; but we have limited funds. It’s important that what we spend on reducing climate risk be spent wisely. It seems this means more trees instead of more solar panels.

Full confession: I have some solar panels. I should’ve done the math.

See also: The Science Behind the Trillion Tree Campaign

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

February 26, 2020

The Science Behind the Trillion Tree Campaign

The 2018 report from the UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) estimates that an increase worldwide of one billion hectares (2.47 billion acres) of forestland would keep global warming this century below 1.5 degrees centigrade, assuming that emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) don’t increase from current levels. The new trees soak up CO2 from the air and turn it into wood, forest litter, and carbon in the soil (collectively called carbon sequestration).  However, the scenarios the UN uses in its modeling assume much lower levels of reforestation and sequestration and thus require drastic cuts in emissions to keep warming under control.

Last July an article in Science calculated that it is actually very feasible to add the equivalent of .9 billion hectares of forestland to the 2.8 billion hectares we already have. Historically, of course, much more of the earth was forested. The careful study allows for existing cropland, human habitation, soil conditions, slopes, and water availability among other factors. The authors point out that the UN 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. The new forest would almost absorb all the net “extra” GHG humans have added to the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age in 1750. “This places ecosystem restoration as one of the most effective solutions at our disposal to mitigate climate change,” according to the authors.

For a long time people have realized that trees play an important role in climate control. That’s why the outrage at the burning of Amazon forests and why “carbon offsets” have been largely used for planting or saving trees. There have been several successful Billion Tree Campaigns. The UN Report and the Science study show that a major part of the effort to reduce the odds of global warming can and should be reforestation. At this year’s meeting of plutocrats in Davos there was an announcement of the Trillion Tree Initiative to support the Trillion Tree Campaign, which had actually launched in 2011. Trilliontrees.org is a joint venture of Birdlife International, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).; it provides one way to contribute both to prevent further deforestation and to help reforestation. It looks like 2021 is the takeoff year for the trillion-tree concept.

Who could be against a trillion trees? Even Donald Trump said the US is supporting the initiative both when he came back from Davos and in his State of the Union Address (it was one of the few bipartisan applause lines). But the issue didn’t stay unpolitical very long.

Only a few days after the State of the Union, the NY Times ran an op-ed called “Planting Trees Won’t Save the World”. The byline says “the authors are scientists”. They say “Planting trees would slow down the planet’s warming, but the only thing that will save us and future generations from paying a huge price in dollars, lives and damage to nature is rapid and substantial reductions in carbon emissions from fossil fuels, to net zero by 2050.” The first evidence these scientists produce of this assertion is a tweet from Greta.

They also cite some negative comments in Science but somehow miss the original authors’ very effective replies to these.

They go on to say: “Focusing on trees as the big solution to climate change is a dangerous diversion. Worse still [emphasis mine], it takes attention away from those responsible for the carbon emissions that are pushing us toward disaster.” In other words, less expensive and less disruptive plans to save the planet are dangerous because they might cause people to resist the price and disruption of a total ban on fossil fuels. We have to be panicked into doing what the authors want.

The irony is that a total ban on fossil fuel is unlikely to work quickly enough to avert rising temperatures, according to UN predictions, while reforestation and other plant-based strategies have a very good chance to actually reduce GHG levels in the near future so long as emission levels don’t rise any higher.

Last week the International Energy Agency (IEA), the world’s scorekeeper on energy facts, published a report headlined “Defying expectations of a rise, global carbon dioxide emissions flatlined in 2019”. It has the good news that worldwide emissions have already stopped increasing because of an all-of-the above strategy which includes deployment of renewables, natural gas substitution for coal, and increased nuclear. Developing nations increased their emissions, but this was offset by the emission decrease in developed nations – led by the US.

One year’s flatlining doesn’t mean the problem of increased emission has been solved; but it’s a hell of a good first step. This year, because of the coronavirus and its effect on trade, emissions are highly likely to decline. Meanwhile coal use in the developing world is continuing to decline and both nuclear and renewables are being deployed worldwide (as well as some coal in the developing world).

The stage is set for the Trillion Tree Initiative to help start reducing atmospheric GHG levels.

See also:

“Defying expectations of a rise, global carbon dioxide emissions flatlined in 2019” – IEA

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

Vermont Is Already Carbon Neutral

Plants to the Rescue

February 20, 2020

Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?

Henry II, who is alleged to have said this shortly before the murder of Thomas Becket, must have had a “resistance” faction in his court much like that in the Trump administration. Ordinarily powerful leaders don’t have to be explicit about what they want to happen; most of their staff spends most of its time trying to figure out what the boss wants and doing it without being told. Giving the boss credible deniability has long been grounds for promotion. This is true in corporations, charities, and governments.

But much of the ranks of the US government is left over from prior administrations and wants to do the exact opposite of what the boss wants and would like to implicate him, not give him deniability. That’s why IMO we have the strange spectacle of the President tweeting for lenient treatment of a former henchman. Normally henchmen get favored treatment without the leader having to say a word. I think Henry II must have had the same problem or 1) Beckett would not have defied him 2) he wouldn’t have had to ask for Beckett to be terminated.

The Chronicle of the Kings of England has another version of Henry’s statement: "Will none of these lazy insignificant persons, whom I maintain, deliver me from this turbulent priest?" Sounds a lot like the self-pitying tone we often hear from Trump.

You just can’t get good help in the swamp.

February 18, 2020

Live on WDEV

This morning (Feb 18)  at 11AM ET I'll be on WDEV (96.1 FM, 550 AM) in VT with Bill Sayre discussing tree-based strategies for CO2 reduction and the surprising new IEA report that emissions have flatlined among other things. Streaming at https://wdevradio.com/stream/. It's a callin so you can question and opine as well.

“Defying expectations of a rise, global carbon dioxide emissions flatlined in 2019” – IEA

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

February 17, 2020

“Defying expectations of a rise, global carbon dioxide emissions flatlined in 2019” – IEA

The world's "all-of-the above" approach to reducing CO2 emissions is working!

According to a press release from the International Energy Agency, the world’s official scorekeeper for energy stuff, global CO2 emissions from energy flatlined in 2019 despite almost universal expectations that they would continue a rapid increase absent a severe recession, a pandemic, or drastic actions by governments around the world. 2019’s reported emissions are below the level the UN IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) says we have to achieve in 2020 in order to be on track for warming only in the range of 0.3 to 1.7 degrees Celsius in this century, their most optimistic scenario. Needless to say, this news is as pleasant as it is surprising.

How did this happen?

There has more rollout of both renewables and natural gas than almost anyone had predicted. That’s partly because natural gas prices are much, much lower than most predictions. Nuclear is making a comeback. Coal is being displaced faster than expected

CO2 emission from energy in the developed world decreased by just as much from 2018 to 2019 as it increased in the developing world, 400 million metric tons (MMts).  The developing world rolled out new coal facilities as well as natural gas, renewables (a little), and nuclear (especially in China); the developed world retired coal facilities. Relatively mild weather worldwide in 2019 meant less winter heating and less summer cooling than in 2018.

In the developed world, winds and solar displaced coal for 110MMts of savings; natural gas replacing coal was directly responsible for 100MMMts of savings, and new nuclear generation, especially in Japan which had shut down its nukes after Fukushima, saved 50MMts. The worldwide leader in CO2 emission reductions was… drum roll please… The USA, thanks both to renewables and natural gas. Abundant natural gas also helps renewables, which produce intermittent but clean electricity, replace coal, which produces reliable but dirty baseline power. Often the only way to maintain grid reliability after shutting down a coal plant is to know that there are backup gas plants ready to fire up on a moment’s notice when the wind doesn’t blow and/or the sun doesn’t shine.

What does it mean for climate change?

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume the UN IPCC models are accurate in predicting what level of emissions will lead to what level of global warming by 2100.  The IPCC spells out four scenarios called Representative Concentration Pathways (RPCs) for emissions and then predicts the range of expected warming under each of these.

RPCs

As you can see, RPC 2.6 has the least emissions. We have to dip into the RPC database to find that 34 MMts of CO2 are predicted from the energy sector under RP2.6 for 2020 (there is no prediction for 2019). There were actually, according to the IEA, 33MMts; and so we’re one year and one million metric tons ahead of schedule.

The IPCC chart below shows the range of warming expected under each scenario.

Tempsnip

The IPCC says that, under RPC2.6, it is highly likely that warming in this century will be between 0.3 and 1.7 degrees Celsius, well below the apocalyptic levels predicted under the other scenarios.

[The IPCC charts and predictions above come for the IPCC’s Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report.]

What next?

2019 is only one year. 2020 may well see a further reduction because of the coronavirus cutting into energy consumption; but that will hopefully be a statistical fluke. Although we are ahead of RPC 2.6 for the moment, staying on track for RPC 2.6 requires large further reductions in emissions and/or taking large amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere by reforestation, improved plant sequestration, and perhaps mechanical removal.

The IEA report shows that an "all-of-the-above" approach is succeeding in controlling emissions while making room for growth in the developing world. It tells us we have no need to panic, that progress is being made and further progress is possible, even likely, without drastic lifestyle changes or draconian controls on individual behavior. But it also tells us that progress is not guaranteed.

For the next decade, the largest reductions will come from completely phasing out coal. Natural gas is essential to that and nuclear very important as well, especially in the developing world. We don’t want to stop fracking for natural gas unless we want to stop the progress towards emissions reduction which is happening. We don’t want to allow NIMPBYism to make the construction of renewables, nuclear plants, transmission lines, and gas pipelines impossible. We do want to make cheap American natural gas available worldwide. We do want to accelerate the rollout of nuclear, especially in the developing world. We do want to continue making wind, especially offshore wind, and solar cheaper to deploy.

The IEA report was a surprise. We have much still to learn from it.

 See also:

Plants to the Rescue

The Ideal Green Solution

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

February 13, 2020

New Hampshire Results Are Bad News for Bernie

Conventional wisdom was that the combined support for Warren and Sanders represented a solid left-wing block which would eventually belong to one of them. It’s stunning that, as Warren lost support, it apparently did NOT go to Sanders. The total centrist vote (Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden) was much higher than the combined Sanders-Warren vote. This is in a state that went 60%+ for Bernie four years ago.

More than half of the people who voted for him last time did NOT vote for him this time. The Warren voters are NOT his for the taking, nor does he appear to be the second choice of disaffected Biden voters. Klobuchar has come on fast and many people would like to see a woman president.

IMO she’d be a good one. I'm contributing to her again today since she'll need to move very fast towards super Tuesday.

February 10, 2020

Vermont Is Already Carbon Neutral

Vermont’s forests may already be taking more greenhouse gasses (GHGs) out of the atmosphere than all our cars, trucks, furnaces, generators, cows, etc. are emitting.  However, the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) - the one that calls for us to go much more quickly to electric cars and heat pumps than we are doing, gives us no credit for the carbon our trees put back in the soil, it just dings us for GHG emissions. The legislature is looking at spending even more money to achieve a goal that may already have been achieved.

Here are the numbers: Vermont Greenhouse Gas emissions in 1990 were 8.65 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents (MMTCO2e) . [Since CO2 isn’t the only greenhouse gas, all emissions are turned by formula into CO2 equivalents.]  According to the Comprehensive Energy Plan, we are supposed to get to 60% of the 1990 level or 4.87 MMTCO2e by 2030 and from 5% to 15% of the 1990 level by 2050. Since we were at 9.76 MMTCO2e in 2016, the last year reported, we must cut emissions by about half, 4.9 million tons, in the next ten years to make the 2030 target. That isn’t going to happen, of course, which is what the students are demonstrating about.

But Vermont isn’t really adding 9.76 MMTCO2e of GHGs to the air each year; far from it.  4.46 million acres of trees cover 75% of Vermont. Each acre of forest takes between 2.9 and 5.8 tons of CO2 out of the air annually, a process called CO2 sequestration. Our trees are sequestering between 13 and 26 million tons of CO2 each year. There is dispute over where in the range of GHG removed per acre our forests really are; but, at even at the low end of the range, our net annual GHG effect is a reduction of 3.24 million tons; we’re already more than carbon neutral (not even counting cropland which also removes some GHGs)!

Can we declare GHG victory and keep our cars and furnaces? Can we avoid millions and millions in subsidies and more taxes on fossil fuels? Not so fast. The Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan only counts emissions, not reductions like those trees make.  If we are going to fulfill that plan, which is a legislative mandate although so far toothless, we must reduce emissions without getting any credit for CO2 sequestration.

The CEP establishes interim goals for 2025 to assure that we reach the 2030 and 2050 CEP goals:

  • Reduce total energy consumption per capita by 15%
  • Meet 25% of the remaining energy need from renewable sources
  • 10% renewable transportation
  • 30% renewable buildings (I think they mean 30% of building thermal needs met by renewables)
  • 67% renewable electric power

Note that there is no goal for increasing CO2 sequestration even though increased sequestration can have more effect on atmospheric GHG levels than reducing emissions at a much lower cost per ton of net GHG improvement. If you believe that increasing atmospheric CO2 is putting life as we know it in terrible danger, then you want to reduce the level as fast as you can. The goal is not reduction of emissions or deployment of renewables; those are means and not an end. The goal is reduction in GHG concentration in the atmosphere. It turns out we can reduce atmospheric GHG much more quickly and cheaply by planting trees on uneconomical farms than with electric cars and heat pumps. But our own rules don’t let us count removing CO2 as progress towards our goal. They force us to be ineffectual and to raise costs for Vermonters. You might even suspect that these rules were written by people who have a stake in which means we use towards the goal of GHG reduction.

Our neighbors in heavily forested Maine are wrestling with the same issues. “Maine may already be ‘carbon neutral’” says a headline in the Maine Examiner. But, unlike Vermont, Maine’s plan does allow them to count increased forest sequestration towards their goal of reducing GHG.

According to the Press Herald: “Scientists also provided the first concrete estimates on how much carbon the state’s forests pull from the atmosphere each year, a critical factor in developing plans to meet Gov. Janet Mills’ commitment to make the state carbon neutral by 2045. Net forest growth and durable wooden goods made by the forest products industry are effectively offsetting three-quarters of Maine’s carbon emissions, scientists from the council’s technical advisory committee reported.”

The Vermont Legislature should change the Comprehensive Energy Plan to count the forest and the trees as Maine does and to give us an incentive to reduce net GHG emissions in the most effective way possible. Instead the legislature is debating how to put more teeth into and add expense to a plan which is not working and cannot work because it depends solely on emission reduction and ignores carbon sequestration.

[note: the original version of this post understated the range of annual carbon sequestration per forested acre and the total CO2 removed annually by Vermont trees. With t he correct numbers, it is clear that Vermont actually is carbon negative so I revised the title to sat that.]

See:

 Carbon myopia in Montpelier (on VTDigger)

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

February 04, 2020

UVM and Middlebury Can Reduce Their Greenhouse Gas Emissions Tomorrow

According to a story in the Times of London, students at Oxford were occupying a quad and refusing to leave until the college divested $10 million of its endowment invested in fossil fuel. The bursar Andrew Parker wrote “I am not able to arrange any divestment at short notice. But I can arrange for the gas central heating in college to be switched off with immediate effect. Please let me know if you support this proposal.”

When a protest organizer suggested he was being provocative, Parker wrote: “You are right that I am being provocative but I am provoking some clear thinking, I hope. It is all too easy to request others to do things that carry no personal cost to yourself. The question is whether you and others are prepared to make personal sacrifices to achieve the goals of environmental improvement (which I support as a goal).”

So far no takers.

At UVM students are also demanding immediate divestiture from fossil fuel investments. But UVM has an alternative which Oxford doesn’t because UVM is located in Vermont and is served by VGS (formerly Vermont Gas System). VGS is the first utility in the country to have a tariffed offer for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) – a non-fossil-fuel alternative to the natural gas which comes from wells.

Renewable natural gas is made by capturing naturally occurring methane emitted from decomposing waste materials at dairies, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants. This methane is a powerful greenhouse gas if released to the environment. The net effect of using RNG can be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below the level which would have occurred even if the university turned off its furnaces entirely since it replaces the current practice of releasing methane from food and waste into the environment.

A customer of VGS can simply call the utility and order any blend up to 100% RNG. Since RNG is chemically identical to fossil natural gas, no new equipment is needed, furnaces work normally, and RNG can be ordered by VGS and delivered to customers through their existing hookups. Note that the infrastructure which delivers this RNG is infrastructure students don’t want to invest in; but this shouldn’t bother UVM students in this case since that infrastructure is already installed to their campus. There is no obstacle to UVM using nothing but renewables for heat and hot water tomorrow (literally tomorrow) except that RNG costs more than fossil gas. Climate protestors are asking that Vermonters pay more to heat their homes and drive their cars. Shouldn’t protesting students be willing to do their share?

It’s not all or nothing. Even if UVM ordered only a 10% RNG mix (much cheaper), they’d be cutting their GHG emissions from heat and hot water by 10% - tomorrow!

Middlebury College is working with a farm nearby to take delivery of RNG through a new pipeline being built by VGS from the farm to the campus. Is this pipeline the kind of infrastructure its students and 350.org founder Bill McKibben, who is a professor there, don’t want the college to invest in? The RNG will be available beyond Middlebury through VGS pipelines; the very pipelines 350.org helped delay and made more expensive. Currently, BTW, those pipelines serve Middlebury with fossil natural gas, which is much cleaner than the dirty #6 oil the college used to burn. But, if Middlebury doesn’t want to continue burning fossil fuel while it waits for the pipe from the farm, all they have to do is call VGS and order RNG for delivery tomorrow. Not sure what they’re waiting for.

[Note: although I founded a company which delivers natural gas by truck and am still an investor in it, I have no financial interest in what fuel UVM and Middlebury choose to burn. Like bursar Parker, I just want to provoke some clear thinking.]

January 31, 2020

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

Each acre of farmland which is turned into a woodlot removes 5.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the next 20 years (numbers adapted from the UN IPCC Report).  This is atmospheric carbon reduction equivalent to taking 1.25 cars off the road or installing 2.5 air source heat pumps. Since we currently have a surplus of dairy land, woodlot conversion should be a major part – perhaps the major part - of Vermont efforts to be “carbon neutral”.

Photosynthesis breaks down CO2 into oxygen and carbon, which is stored in the woody parts of the tree, the roots, and the soil. Fields which are grazed or grow corn or hay also convert CO2; but, as the grass or corn is eaten or decays, the carbon is recombined with oxygen and released into the atmosphere; and so there is little, if any, net reduction in atmospheric CO2.

Listings of the prices of Vermont farms show that, at the low end, farmland can be purchased for less than $1000/acre. Any program to buy up this land would obviously start with the cheapest and least productive land, especially farms which are already out of business. Planting trees in cleared soil costs less than $100/acre. Since there are more dairy farms in Vermont than there is demand for their milk, dairy farmers would benefit either from being able to sell their land or from the fact that other farmers have sold. If farms with runoff problems are replanted in trees, Vermont lakes will benefit as well and the cost of lake cleanup will be reduced.

It costs at least ten time as much per ton of annual CO2 reduction to use electric car incentives as it does to convert to woodland.

Details: $1100 pays the capital cost of sequestering 5.7 tons annually in a newly planted woodlot. Current incentives from Green Mountain Power to buy an all-electric car are $1500 (plus another $1000 for low income people).  The feds will pay up to $7500; Vermont has an incentive only for low-income purchasers. We, the ratepayers and taxpayers, shell out $9000 to non-low-income GMP customers to convince them to replace their fossil-fuel cars with electrics (which they might have done anyway). Even if we assume that all the electricity used by these cars is generated without consuming fossil fuel (certainly not true!), completely removing the average car from the road avoids emitting only 4.6 tons of CO2 year. It costs about $1950/ton to remove a ton of annual emissions with electric cars incentives; it costs $194 to remove a ton by planting trees on underused dairy land.

It costs 10.5 times as much per ton to reduce CO2 by installing “cold climate” air source heat pumps as it does to convert to woodland.

Details: This one is really complex but a recent study commissioned by the Vermont Public Service Department shows that the average residential heat pump installed in Vermont cost $4500 and saved the use of 217 gallons of fuel. Turns out that air-source heat pumps don’t do much when it’s really cold so people still need to use their oil furnaces for much of their load.

Vermont’s current plans for atmospheric CO2 reduction rely almost entirely on switching energy sources and discouraging the use of some forms of energy while incenting the use of others.(see  2016 Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan). We are not on track to meet the goals of this plan and so many are proposing increased energy taxes and draconian governmental controls.  We can actually achieve greater reduction by converting some of our million acres of cropland to timber at much, much lower cost and without making transportation and home heating more expensive for Vermonters.

If you think, as many do, that increasing atmospheric CO2 is an existential problem, then you should want Vermont’s reduction program to be as cheap and effective as it can be. If you think that the dangers of climate change or human contribution to climate change is negligible, you should want us to only do things for carbon reduction which are both cheap and have benefits beyond their effect on climate.  Because we have underused farmland, we have an opportunity other states don’t. Our greener new deal should be more trees, not more taxes.

BTW, I think afforestation (planting trees in places where they aren’t) can probably be done mostly if not completely with private funds (blog coming). The cost of electric car incentives is all born by taxpayers and utility ratepayers; the cost of heat pumps is split between incentives at the cost of other ratepayers and building owners.

See also:

Plants to the Rescue

The Ideal Green Solution

Undeserved (and Useless) Rebates I Got (about electric cars)

What Should We Do About the Threat of Climate Change?

January 27, 2020

Why Republicans Should Vote in Democratic Presidential Primaries This Year

I usually (although not always) vote Republican. Unhappily, I voted for Donald Trump after working against him in the primary. Don’t want to vote for him again; but might have to. My vote in the general election won’t matter in solidly-blue Vermont. But my vote in the Democratic primary here on Super Tuesday, March 3, does matter.

You shouldn’t be discouraged from voting in your state’s primary because you think a candidate you don’t like is going to get a majority of the votes in your state. According to Democratic Party rules, delegates will be apportioned by the percentage of vote each candidate gets in the state primary (with a minimum of 15%). Even if Sanders wins Vermont, which is likely, other candidates still might get delegates.

If Vermont did not have an open primary which allows voters to select either party’s ballot on primary day, I would register as a Democrat in order to cast this important vote. Reregistration is necessary to vote in critically important California, which is a Super-Tuesday state and whose results will influence much of the rest of the primary season.

Three reason why Republicans and Independents should vote in the Democratic primary:

  1. The Democratic nominee may well become president;
  2. There should be a palatable alternative to Trump;
  3. Recognition that the Democratic nomination will not be determined solely by the extreme left may help arrest the leftward lurch by all of the Democratic aspirants.

Haven’t made up my mind whom to vote for and won’t early-vote because I need as much information as possible before deciding.

I’m not going to do what cross-voters are often accused of: vote for the worst possible candidate in order to help “my side” (that would be Warren IMO). I don’t have a side except what I think is best for the country and neither party is representing that very well right now.

Won’t vote for the candidate with the best chance of beating Trump (Sanders IMO).

I will vote for the person I think will be the best president. In contention now for my vote are Bloomberg, Klobuchar, and Biden. Even if one of these or one of the other D candidates wins the nomination, not sure yet whom I’ll vote for in the general. That’ll depend on the campaign itself.

These are the states with open Democratic primaries (list from Wikipedia).

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Massachusetts (Primaries open for "unenrolled"/unaffiliated voters only)
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina (Primaries open for unaffiliated voters only)
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio (Affiliate with a party by voting in its primary)
  • Oklahoma (Only Democratic primary is open to Independent voters)
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota (Only Democratic primary is open to Independent voters)
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah (For the Democratic Presidential Primary)
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington (State)
  • Wisconsin

See also: I Voted for Donald Trump

January 23, 2020

piddle and Buttbook

Piddlepoint
Bennie, our new puppy, reminds us that dogs have used social media for years. Boys tend to leave peeps at piddlepoints more than girls; but girls do lurk and smell the peeps. Little wonder; all the trivia of dog life is posted there: what pooch had for dinner; her current state of estrus or his state of randiness; pissy comments on all of the above.

Buttsniff

Buttbook has a lot of the same information but more individualized. Not only how one sniffs; not only how one smells; but also how one reacts to having his or her butt sniffed. These are important clues to important questions like is one ready for a new relationship.

Just like the odorless social media we humans use, it’s not all about sex on piddle and Buttbook either. Dominance is important. So is just plain gossip. Piddle is about communicating virtually beyond the limits of leashes and across the time gulf of different walking schedules. Buttbook is for instant status when a judgment must be made in seconds.

Do you think they discuss us on piddle and Buttbook? I asked Bennie but he isn’t telling.

January 21, 2020

Plants to the Rescue

Plants made our current atmosphere and plants can keep it balanced.

When plants first showed up on earth about 3.5 billion years ago, carbon dioxide made up more than 20% of the atmosphere. There was no significant oxygen in the air so none of us animals existed. Cyanobacteria and then plants used sunlight to extract carbon from the CO2; in the process they released O2 and we animals evolved and began to convert some of that O2 back to CO2. The influence of the plants has been much greater than our influence. Since humans have been around, the air has been about 20% O2 and .04%CO2.

image from images.newscientist.com

The chart above is from newscientist.com. The numbers on it are largely observations as opposed to theory or “scientific consensus”. The UN report on climate cites these numbers as do many who feel the report overstates the dangers of climate change.

The green arrows show that in 1750 as the industrial age began, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was about the same from year to year because the amount of that gas emitted by respiration, rotting, weathering of rock, and release from the sea was roughly balanced by the amounts of CO2 recaptured by photosynthesis and ocean absorption.

As of 2004 human activity (see the red arrows) added 32 additional gigatons (a gigaton is a billion tons) of CO2 each year to the emissions from 1750. Interestingly, plants have stepped up their activity by sequestering an additional 10 gigatons of CO2 annually (remember CO2 is fuel to them) while the ocean is also absorbing net 10 gigatons more as it stays in balance with the air above it. That still leaves an imbalance; and so in 2005 total CO2 in the atmosphere was increasing by about 15 gigatons/year (the squiggle “~”  in front of “15” mean “about”)  . That number is probably about 18 gigatons/year now due to increased human activity.

Let’s assume we don’t want the composition of the atmosphere to keep changing because we’ve gotten used to things the way they are and let’s assume that we stabilize human emissions about where they are now or in a few years. All we need is for the plants to remove an additional 18 gigatons of CO2/year and sequester it as carbon in the soil and we will have completely neutralized the human contribution. That’s not unreasonable to work towards since they are already processing more than 450 gigatons/year and since they are already increasing their production without any help from us. Since plants grow faster when they have more fuel, an additional upside of plants using our excess CO2 is that the amount of food crops per acre will increase. Also soil with more carbon in it requires less irrigation and fertilization. What’s not to like?

Nevertheless, if we just wait for plants to evolve to establish a new equilibrium (which they always have done and will do eventually), we will be doing a pretty big science experiment with the effects of atmospheric CO2 on climate. Last week I wrote about an initiative at the Salk Institute to develop Ideal Plants® which have woody roots that increase the amount of carbon left in the soil when the plant is harvested or dies. We can also speed up the evolution of plants adapted to the increases in atmospheric CO2 which have occurred since 1750 and get these new plants disseminated; I’m sure there are people working on this.

We have made progress in reducing CO2 emissions both by replacing coal with natural gas and by adding renewables to our energy mix. There is no reason why that progress should stop. Although the news is dominated by deforestation, developing countries are reforesting. The green hills of Vermont were denuded 100 years ago for sheep farming. As counties come out of poverty, which they are doing rapidly, they are probably not going to shun air condition, cars and meat; but they are likely to reforest when they don’t need to burn every scrap of wood for fuel. If we reforest with greener trees which store more carbon, all the better.

Joanne Chory is the leader of the Salk Institute Harnessing Plants Initiative. In a podcast, she says:

“… I have a wake-up call for anybody out there who thinks they’re working in an area related to climate change, but we have to also draw down some of the CO2 we’ve already put up there, and the only way to do that, that I can see, is by capturing CO2, and plants are going to do it way better than any machine. And people will say, ‘What can I do? Should I drive an electric car?’ Well you can drive an electric car, that’s a nice idea. But I can tell you this fact: if every car in the United States became an electric car today, it’s not making a global impact with the amount of CO2 we put out. So you still have to just suck it out of there somehow, and the only way I can see of doing it is by having a number of different approaches that involve nature and humans acting together.”

See also:

The Ideal Green Solution

Undeserved (and Useless) Rebates I Got (about electric cars)

What Should We Do About the Threat of Climate Change?

January 16, 2020

Preparing for Electric Vehicles

Before electric vehicles are in widespread use, we need to solve the problems of how to get electricity to them and how to pay for the roads they run on. So far these problems haven’t mattered because there are so few e-vehicles. In Vermont we are very well-positioned to deal with both problems.

Electric vehicles will replace their gas-powered predecessors for the most old-fashioned of reasons: they are about to be cheaper to manufacture and buy and they can also be cheaper to maintain and operate. The problem of battery range, very real today, is a technical problem which will be solved. Moreover, the aging baby-boomers, not to mention those of us who are even older, need assisted driving features which are almost impossible to implement with gasoline engines.

But how is electricity going to get to all those batteries? Do we need massive new sources of electricity (renewable or otherwise)? Do we have to rebuild the electric grid so that the energy we’re used to picking up at the gas station can be delivered to our home chargers?

And who is going to pay for the road and bridge building and maintenance currently funded from the gasoline tax? Electric cars still need roads to run on. Good road marking is essential to self-driving cars. But, if you’re buying your fuel from your electric utility, you’re not paying any gas tax. What happens when gas tax collections are cut in half and then in half again?

The problem of getting people to buy electric cars will solve itself. We must start working on the problems which wide-spread use of e-vehicles will bring. These are issues which the Vermont State legislature ought to be looking at this session with leadership from Governor Scott who is a “car guy” and wants to promote e-vehicle use.  Here’s what we can and should do in Vermont right now.

Assure that electric utilities offer and promote time-of day pricing so that e-vehicles will be charged up off-peak. If a substantial amount of charging is off-peak, there will be little to need to build new electric transmission and distribution lines since the need for these lines is always determined by peak demand. Similarly, there is plenty of generation capacity available during off-peak periods so little new generation should be needed. Even where we must build new lines or generation, the cost of that building will be negligible per kilowatt so long as we smooth out the peaks and have all-night usage of any new capacity.

Off-peak pricing is NOT yet another subsidy to electric car owners; it allows anyone, even those without e-cars, to participate in the grid-wide savings that come from smoothing out the peaks of demand and filling in the valleys. It will be cheap and easy to offer off-peak pricing in Vermont because, during the last recession we go got a huge Stimulus grant which allowed us to install smart meters everywhere. The meters are there but we haven’t taken much advantage of them except to automate meter reading and aid in locating outages. The utilities currently have off-peak rates, but they don’t offer much incentive and are not promoted.

It is somewhat absurd that Vermont electric utilities are using ratepayer money to provide incentives for buying e-cars rather than saving money for all the ratepayers and making e-car fueling cheaper by encouraging the use of time-of-day rates.

Redirect the energy efficiency charge (EEC) on electric use by those who have e-cars to the Transportation Fund to pay for road maintenance. Most residential users in Vermont pay an EEC which amounts to more than an 8% surcharge on the usage portion of their electric bill. This money goes to an organization called Efficiency Vermont except in Burlington where it goes to Burlington Electric. The revenue from the EEC is supposed to be used to REDUCE electricity usage in Vermont and thus save ratepayers money. Electric vehicles will INCREASE electricity use so there is no sense in giving Efficiency Vermont a bonus because of INCREASED usage. Putting the EEC payments from households (and some businesses) with electric vehicles into the Transportation Fund is a way for e-car owners to pay their share of road maintenance without having to pay higher electric bills.

Governor Scott proposed in this State of the State Address that EEC money be used to aid electrification of the vehicle fleet. Assuring that there will be well-maintained roads even as gas tax receipts dwindle is a great way to prepare for electrification to succeed.

Whether you believe that a transition to e-vehicles is essential for environmental reasons or not, that transition is going to come. Being prepared is very green.

See also:

What’s a Smart Grid and Why Does It Matter?

Time of Day Pricing for Electricity

Undeserved (and Useless) Rebates I Got

January 13, 2020

Appeasement Doesn’t Work

Somehow those who agree with me that it was a good idea to kill both Osama bin Laden and ISIS leader Abu al-Baghdadi are now saying it was wrong to kill Qassem Soleimani:

  • Iran may retaliate. Al-Qaeda and ISIS also vowed revenge after their leaders were killed. Bad guys have followers and supporters. Nevertheless, you either fight them or surrender. That was one of the great lessons of the twentieth century. Appeasement doesn’t work; it led the Second World War. We have already lost the Third World War if we are afraid to take lethal action against someone actively killing Americans.

 So far Iran has only made a cautious token response and has managed to kill hundreds of its own people in funeral riots and the panicky shooting down of a civilian plane full of Iranians and Canadians of Iranian descent. President Trump has been uncharacteristically diplomatic in accepting the Iranian “de-escalation”. Of course, there could still be a descent into war; but what would have happened if Soleimani has lived to continue his jihad against America? Iranian leaders are now less likely to miscalculate American determination when they realize that their own skins are at risk – not just the foot-soldiers of their Iraqi, Yemeni, or Lebanese proxies.

  • Ordering the attack on Soleimani was illegal under international and/or US law. It’s hard to take this argument seriously from anyone who didn’t object to killing bin Laden and al-Baghdadi far from any battlefield, without consulting Congress, and without the permission of the countries which were harboring them. Neither of these two bad guys was a threat any longer.

The argument amounts to saying that you can only take out someone who kills Americans once their career is over and they are in hiding.  Think how many more people would be alive today if we’d been able to kill bin Laden and al-Baghdadi before their forced retirements. Our timing was better with Soleimani. Would’ve been even better to get him earlier but we chose not to.

Trump muddied this argument with the unnecessary claim that we specifically knew Soleimani posed an “imminent” threat. His death was justified based on what he had already done and his rush from Syria to Iraq to talk with the Iraqi leader of the siege of the US embassy was clearly dangerous for Americans there. Perhaps he and the Iraqi were still discussing how “imminent” the threat should be.  It was good discussion for us to terminate.

 

  • We’ve unified the people of Iran and Iraq against us. Last week we saw huge anti-American marches in Iran. These marches were evidence of nothing since Iran is a totalitarian state and kills its citizens for going to the wrong rally. This week the people who were risking their lives to protest against the Ayatollah before we killed Soleimani are again risking their lives to protest against leaders who are both incompetent enough to shoot down a plane which had been cleared by their own air traffic control and dishonest enough to deny they had done so for three days.

The Iraqi Parliament did vote to advise the Prime Minister to request the withdrawal of our troops. But the Parliament didn’t have a quorum because the Sunni and Kurdish members defied the threats of the Iranian-backed militias and boycotted the session.

The Iraqis who were demonstrating against Iranian influence two weeks ago (and whom Soleimani ordered the militias to slaughter) are back demonstrating for independence again. Some want us gone, as well; fair enough. The first demonstrations Al Jazeera showed on the night of Soleimani’s death were in Baghdad and were celebrations by those who were protesting Iran’s influence.

  • Soleimani was a high-ranking official of the government of a real country, not just the leader of a self-proclaimed caliphate. Does that give him immunity to kill Americans? Is his excuse that he was just giving orders, not carrying them out? His position just makes him that much more dangerous. We cannot tolerate terrorist behavior from anyone. For much too long, we have allowed Iran and Soleimani to pursue asymmetric warfare against Americans and others, mostly through their proxies. The life of an Iranian general is certainly worth no more than the lives of the many, including Americans, he has killed.

I’m afraid, really afraid, that many Americans including my friends are opposing this very just and timely action because they are afraid that, if Donald Trump gets credit for doing anything right, he’ll be reelected.

I would also like to be able to vote for someone else. It would have been great to see one of the Democratic candidates distinguish her or himself by praising an action which was clearly, I think, in America’s interest.

The isolationist-wing of conservatives (especially on Fox News) have been even more vitriolic in attacking Trump for ordering Soleimani’s removal than the left. This is eerily reminiscent of the time after the German-Soviet nonaggression pact when both the left and America-first right opposed America taking sides in World War 2. They were both wrong then and they are both wrong now.

We owe it to ourselves and our diplomats and troops in harm’s way to ignore politics and oppose appeasement.

See also “We’ve got your back” beats “Thank you for your service”

January 09, 2020

The Ideal Green Solution

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies has a simple solution for reducing atmospheric levels of  CO2 without undoing civilization as we know it or denying people in developing countries the right to live as we do. Although Salk believes that climate change is an unprecedented threat, their solution is worth pursuing even if turns out that CO2 emissions are no threat at all. Here’s how they describe it:

“At the Salk Institute, we have developed an innovative and scalable approach to tackle climate change using an answer that has been hiding in plain sight: the plants that surround us.

“Plants have evolved over time to be the perfect vehicle for carbon capture and storage. Through photosynthesis, they remove CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into oxygen and biomass.

“The Harnessing Plants Initiative will optimize a plant’s natural ability to capture and store carbon and adapt to diverse climate conditions.

“Plants take in CO2 and store carbon in their roots.

“Suberin—also known as cork—is a naturally occurring carbon-rich substance found in plant roots. It absorbs carbon yet resists decomposition (which releases carbon back into the atmosphere), enriches soil and helps plants resist stress.

“By understanding and improving just a few genetic pathways in plants, Salk's plant biologists believe they can help plants grow bigger, more robust root systems that absorb larger amounts of carbon, burying it in the ground in the form of suberin.

“The Salk team will use cutting-edge genetic and genomic techniques to develop these Ideal Plants.®…”

“Once the Salk team has developed ways to increase suberin in model plants, they will transfer these genetic traits to six prevalent crops: corn, soybean, rice, wheat, cotton/cottonseed and rapeseed/canola. [nb. these crops are planted from new seed every year so Salk’s plan to license the plant genes to seed distributors is a fast and self-funding way to get the Ideal Plants out into the world quickly.]

“In addition to mitigating climate change, the enhanced root systems will help protect plants from stresses caused by climate changes and the additional carbon in the soil will make the soil richer, promoting better crop yields and more food for a growing global population.   [nb. emphasis mine. Better yields will incent farmers to buy and plant these seeds and reduce the land, fertilizer, and water needed to grow a given amount of food.]

“Plant ecosystems in the earth’s oceans, rivers and wetlands have the capacity to store far more carbon than their land-based relatives.

“Restoring aquatic systems will allow seagrasses and coastal plants to thrive and store more carbon while also reinvigorating fisheries; rejuvenating coral reefs; and aiding in coastal restoration efforts.”

There are, of course, many others besides Salk claiming to have a solution to global warming (and using the threat of warming to raise funds). Salk has not yet proven that their approach is practical; it does sound too good to be true.. There will be objections both because this solution relies on genetically modified plants (GMOs) and because, if it all works as advertised, we can make a thoughtful and less hysterical transition from fossil fuels without massive government intervention or huge economic dislocation.

The Salk Institute has earned the right to be taken seriously. It was founded by Dr. Jonas Salk using the money he earned from inventing the first practical polio vaccine. Over its history its faculty have been awarded six Nobel prizes, three Albert Lasker Awards, and numerous other accolades. It has made groundbreaking discoveries, particularly in genetics.

Last week I blogged that I am receiving over $6000 in useless rebates because I bought a partially-electric hybrid car. My car does very little to reduce CO2 emissions and I was going to buy it even before I knew about the rebates so they didn’t influence my behavior. Since I felt guilty, I said I’d donate the rebates to charity.  They will go to the Salk Institute where I think these rebates really may do some good.

Vermont, which wants to do something about the threat of climate change, should consider how our agricultural college (UVM) and our going-out-of-business farms can be used for experiments in Ideal Plants which benefit from increased atmospheric CO2 (reuse is better even than recycle). Better use of our money IMO than feel-good incentives which mainly go the affluent and is more likely to have world-wide effect if successful than any tiny reductions we can make on our own. Imagine if we could pioneer Ideal Marijuana!

[Note: this Friday, the 10th, at 11am ET I will be talking about plant-based CO2 reduction with Bill Sayre on his radio show on WDEV 96.1 FM, 550 AM. The show is streamed on the web at https://wdevradio.com/stream/.]

See also:

What Should We Do About the Threat of Climate Change?

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