January 18, 2022

Let’s Really Build the Electric Grid Back BETTER

That means converting to direct current.

There’s no argument that our electric grid needs to be rebuilt. Some of it, like the transmission lines that sparked the California fires, is dangerously past its use by date. Much of it, like the lines radiating out from the site of the former Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, are in the wrong place. The design is centralized as a relic of the days before advanced electronics and communications made decentralization a more resilient and cheaper option. Almost all of it carries alternating current (AC) as result of an argument Nicholas Tesla won over Thomas Edison a century ago. Most important, the grid is not ready for the loads we will put on it as we continue to electrify. It is also not reliable enough to be the sole source of energy for transportation and heating.

Times have changed. All the electronics in our houses use direct (DC) and not alternating current; that’s why they are plugged into our AC outlets through the ubiquitous converter bricks. Almost all energy efficient appliances use direct drive motors and convert AC to DC internally. LED light bulbs are better with DC. Water heaters don’t care.

ACDC

The illustration above is from a report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) The report estimates that at least 10% of the energy coming into a house is lost in conversion from AC to DC. The number is much higher if a storage battery or an electric car is also being charged. The number gets higher each time a rechargeable tool replaces a gasoline-powered predecessor.

All solar panels generate direct current. All batteries are charged with direct current. But, if you have solar panels and battery backup today, the output from the solar panels is converted to AC by an expensive piece of equipment and at a significant energy loss; then, at the battery, the AC is converted back to the DC the battery needs by another expensive piece of equipment and more energy is squandered. These inefficient systems exist today because the transition from AC to DC had been unplanned; that’s no one’s fault.

But now we have a chance to build back better with the money already appropriated in the 1.2 trillion dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Fortunately we have time. The last great stimulus bill in the Obama administration was a jobs bill. We had to put people to work right now right now even though we didn’t have constructive “shovel ready” jobs for them. Unemployment was very high. That was then and this is now. We have a shortage of people to do what we were doing before the pandemic. We can plan and design and then really build back better while we’re training the workforce we’ll need.

These are some of the rules we need:

  1. Any new transmission line and any line which is substantially rebuilt with the federal money must be DC. There will be a transitional cost of equipment to convert to AC where local sub-transmission or distribution is still AC. Think of these convertors as scaffolding for building back better. After all grids are DC, we won’t need them anymore.
  2. Any new distribution line and any distribution which is substantially redone with the federal money must be DC. Again there is a transition cost to convert to AC at houses which still need that.
  3. Building codes should be amended (a local and state job) to permit and encourage DC and hybrid houses as in the diagram below (also from ACEEE).

Hybrid

Once the distribution system is switched to DC, the inverter at the entrance to the house is no longer needed.

  1. After a transition period no grant money or subsidy of any kind should go to equipment for converting from DC to AC as part of solar or wind turbine installations or from AC to DC for battery installations.
  2. Give consideration to going underground for new and rebuilt parts of the grids for reliability reasons (and to prevent forest fires). There are less problems in burying DC lines than AC lines.
  3. Take advantage of the rebuilding of highways to bury electrical (and broadband) conduits as well as drainage.

America and Americans will have a huge advantage if we are the first major country to go all DC. Our energy costs will be lower as will emissions from generating electricity. Electricity will be more economical and reliable enough to replace much fossil fuel. The money’s already been appropriated.  We can build back BETTER.

January 13, 2022

Vermont Can Exceed 2025 Carbon Reduction Goal Just by Planting Trees

Why would the legislature consider anything else?

The facts

 “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 mean that these are metric tons – 1000Kg each]. This quote is from Reforestation Hub, a website run by the Nature Conservancy.

At most we have to reduce 1.28 million tons  to meet the 2025 goal in the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) passed by the Vermont legislature over Gov. Scott’s veto last year. Vermont is required to reduce Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the equivalent of 7.38 metric tons by 2025. The  Greenhouses Gas Emissions Inventory from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation  says that we were at 8.66 metric tons in 2017 (last year with hard data) and declining. In other words, we only must plant 77% of the acres identified by Reforestation Hub to get there.

Vermont dairy farmers own most of this land. 427,000 acres are identified as pasture; but it looks from the maps like this includes hay and cornfields used to grow feed for cattle. Their businesses are suffering from over-capacity and the poor economics of producing liquid milk in Vermont as opposed to the Midwest.

According to Vermont Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer, the State of Vermont spent $285 million between 2010 and 2019 on programs to support dairy farming. During that period the number of dairy farms declined from 1015 to 636. Some of the decline is due to consolidation but most is simply farms going out of business. Moreover dairy farming is the most significant source of phosphorous runoff damaging our lakes and costing a small fortune to clean up. Farmers point out that they cannot afford the changes in farming practices necessary to prevent the runoff.

Buying land and reforesting it is often the most cost-effective way to reduce GHG emissions when measured on a tons of reduction per dollar basis. 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. We get four times as much annual reduction per dollar spent on trees than per dollar spent on solar panels (details here) even if we assume a high cost of $4000/acre for acquisition, remediation, and planting. Both heat pumps and subsidies for electric cars are much more expensive paths to GHG reduction than reforestation (details here).

What is the legislature likely to do?

The Climate Council, a group created by GWSA, has presented a set of proposals to the legislature.  Almost all the proposals are for reducing emissions in the usual expensive ways: solar panels, subsidies for heat pumps and electric cars (a particularly inequitable way to distribute money), joining a non-existent multi-state compact to impose a carbon tax and various ways of raising the cost of fossil fuel to Vermonters. The report does, to its credit, have a small section on reforestation but only tiptoes, literally, around the edge of the potential of reforestation by recommending more trees around the edge of fields. The Council recognizes that diary cows are a significant source of GHG themselves as well as other pollution and recommends various expensive ways to reduce methane emissions per cow; but doesn’t suggest simply buying-out uneconomic herds.

The legislature will allocate as much money as it can to various emission-reduction subsidies because their focus is on reducing emissions rather than on reducing the GHG in the atmosphere. When they run out of money – that’ll take a while because there is a lot of federal money available, they will shift costs to consumers with various mandates and indirect penalties for fossil fuel use. They will continue to listen to the army of lobbyists from the renewable-industrial complex. Some of what they plan will vetoed by Governor Scott; but his vetoes may be overridden and/or he will be forced to accept some unwise expenditures in order to keep the overall cost to Vermonters down.

There still won’t be enough money to meet the 2025 goal; but the GWSA has an ugly provision which allows anyone to sue the government if goals aren’t met. No telling what mischief and end runs on democracy this will allow unless it’s judged unconstitutional (which it may well be) or repealed.

What should the legislature do?

  1. Recognize that removing a ton of GHG is just as valuable to the environment as avoiding a ton of emissions. Most states recognize that but Vermont doesn’t.
  2. Realize that the decline of dairy farming is an opportunity for reforestation and that buying out failing farms is a farmer-friendly thing to do.
  3. Compare each proposed reduction strategy to the alternative of reforestation purely on the basis of how many tons of GHG will be reduced per dollar spent.
  4. Spend first on the most-effective strategy – which will usually be reforestation in the next five years.
  5. Allocate money that would have gone to ineffectual farm bailouts and less-effective ways to reduce lake pollution to farm buyouts and forestation.

We will best meet our environmental goals by good use of Vermont land. Reforestation Hub shows the size of the opportunity. It’s time to change crops, as Vermont has often done in the past, and turn some farms to forests.

See also:

Failing Dairy Farms Are an Opportunity to Grow Back Better

Trees v. Solar Panels

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

January 09, 2022

When Zoom Freezes Over – Free Way to Find Out Why

“Is it my internet connection or hers?” Mary asked me. I ran a speed test with her browser and the connection looked OK.

“It’s happening again,” Mary said again. Another speed test looked OK.

“She says it only happen when she’s zooming with me!” This time it was an accusation. And this time the speed test failed.

I’m the nerd of the house and I’m responsible for all such failures. There’s gotta be some way to know whose internet connection is flaky, I thought; billions of federal dollars are about to be spent on better broadband here in the sticks. How will we know if we’re getting what our tax dollars pay for? Will our connections be good enough for work at home, remote schooling, and telemedicine? Will we be able to zoom with our grandkids? That’s when I first thought about zoomready and started coding.

Zr.1.10


zoomready is an application which runs full time quietly on your computer monitoring the state of your connection. If you want to know how the connection is currently or has been historically, just bring the zoomready window to the front. If you are having a problem teleconferencing or with your internet connection in general, zoomready will help you (or your local nerd) diagnose the problem. zoomready watches five aspects of your connection.

  1. Latency – how long it takes a single packet of information from your computer to get to somewhere on the internet and a response to work its way back.
  2. Jitter – how much latency varies second by second. High jitter means poor audio and video quality.
  3. Download speed.
  4. Upload speed.
  5. Failure frequency and duration – time when there is no internet connectivity at all for more than five seconds.

Turns out Mary’s problem was not poor service from our Internet Service Provider (ISP); it was our WiFi. When I moved her computer to my office, zoomready told me that the connection was more than zoom ready. Turns out there is radiant heating in the floor of her office and, under some circumstances (when the heat is on?), it interferes with her WiFi connection. Once I knew this, I used a cable and an Ethernet connection to the router for her office rather than WiFi. zoomready is useful for figuring out where in your house you can best zoom. A few other uses:

  • determine whether it is your connection or someone else’s which is causing freezes and disconnects. If your zoomready stats are good and have been during the last hour, the problem is with someone else’s connection.
  • measure whether your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is delivering the level of service you were promised including peak periods.
  • determine whether a hotel connection or other temporary connection is good enough for teleconferencing while there’s still time before you go online.

You can download the installer for the Windows version, the only one written so far, by clicking here or download the exe only, if that's what you prefer, by clicking here. You may have to contend with virus blockers or Windows itself warning that the app is unrecognized. More detailed installation instructions are here. There is now a website for zoomready and other free open source connectivity tools I've been working on: freecheckip.com.

The documentation is here. This is the cheat sheet. If you’re a fellow python nerd, the source is in my Github repository https://github.com/tevslin/zoomready. Feel free to clone it and make better versions.

zoomready has a usefulness model but no business model.  It doesn’t ask for your personal information; and, other than making some web requests from your computer (see the documentation), it doesn’t provide anyone with any information about you. It doesn’t run in a browser so no cookies are stored on your computer. It has no ads.

I called the product zoomready as a compliment to the software which has defined our pandemic experience; but its ratings are applicable to whatever teleconferencing service you actually use.

If you find bugs in zoomready – I promise there will be some to find - or have suggestions for improvement, please either comment on this post or raise an issue on Github.

I’ve blogged about other free software which helps us make our internet experience better:

Now Available – Worldwide and Local Current Starlink Performance

Another Free Way to Tell if Starlink Broadband Will Work at Your Location

December 29, 2021

Is Freedom Possible Without Consequences?

I'll be on WDEV (96.1 FM, 550 AM) in VT with Bill Sayre at 11AM today (December 29, 2021) discussing whether

  1. we can be free not to get vaccinated without accepting responsibility if we get sick;
  2. we can be free to take the drugs of our choice without any consequences for bad decisions;
  3. we can choose not to work and claim housing and food as basic human necessities.

Streaming at https://wdevradio.com/stream/. It's a callin so you can question and opine as well.

December 28, 2021

Failing Dairy Farms Are an Opportunity to Grow Back Better

Transitioning from dairy will decrease net GHG emissions, help with housing, make Champlain healthier, and provide an exit for hard-working farm families.

A history of change

The history of land use in Vermont is a history of change. Indigenous Vermonters cleared small fields in the most fertile areas and used fire to keep down underbrush to make the hunt easier. The first European settlers hacked down the woods as fast as they could to make room for subsidence farming. Early Vermont cash crops included not just maple syrup, wood, apples, and corn but also potatoes and wheat. The first industrial product from the Green Mountain State was potash obtained by burning lots of wood in iron pots. Cleared land was taken as a sign of progress; the forest was a forbidding place just waiting to be tamed.

By the early 1800s the thin soil on the hillsides had already become too depleted for most crops; in the fertile valleys, successful farmers expanded their land by buying out less successful neighbors, who then headed for greener pastures further west. In 1811 the Merino sheep came and transformed the landscape once again. Sheep can graze anywhere, even in rocky soil; remaining hillside trees were cleared to make room. According to Hands on the Land: A History of the Vermont Landscape by Jan Albers (from which all the facts in this brief history are taken), “by 1840… there were 1,681,000 sheep in Vermont six times the human population”.

By 1850 the sheep boom was over. The railroads, instead of expanding the market for Vermont wool, opened it to competition from the west where it cost half as much to raise sheep. The few remaining Merino farms survived by raising breeding stock and selling it to the rest of the country. The hill farms, however, turned to dairy as did many in the valleys. The milk trains expanded the market for milk and milk products to the rest of the northeast.

In the last hundred years the hillsides have regrown – not before years of terrible flooding due to lack of trees to slow runoff. Vermont began to look like Vermont looks now, a vista of mountains seen over cultivated fields. It’s very pretty. It’s what we’re used to. And it’s not sustainable!

What we’re doing now isn’t working

According to Vermont Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer, the State of Vermont spent $285 million between 2010 and 2019 on programs to support dairy farming. During that period the number of dairy farms declined from 1015 to 636. Some of the decline is due to consolidation but most is simply farms going out of business.

IMO the state programs are counter-productive and have actually hurt the industry they are meant to help. The underlying problem is that there is not enough demand to support a price for milk greater than the cost of production. Keeping money-losing farms in business makes it harder for those with better economics to succeed. The more milk that is taken off the market by farms going out of business, the better the chance of the most efficient farms being able to flourish. At best, the state programs are postponing the inevitable. At worst, they’re exacerbating the problem of over supply.

The dairy industry is also subsidized in other not so obvious ways. It doesn’t pay nearly the full cost of cleaning up the damage agricultural runoff has done to the lakes of Vermont nor can it afford to take the measures necessary to prevent current pollution. It is an open secret that the industry depends on the state and the feds turning a blind eye to the illegal and exploitable immigrants who are the only people willing to do the hard work of dairy farming for the low wages the industry can afford.

Milk sales are only 1.3% of Vermont’s domestic product according to Hoffer; it is not clear how much of that would be lost if unprofitable farms closed even faster than they are. There would still be plenty of milk for Cabot to make cheese and Ben and Jerry to make ice cream. There is an argument that, if the farms were to turn into shopping centers and condos, the tourist industry would suffer and those of us whom love the Vermont “look” would be disappointed and perhaps move away.

The answer is what it has always been: Change Crops

We can keep most Vermont farmland productively in agriculture if we do what has been done so many times before: change to a profitable crop. Failing dairy farms should be converted to a combination of forest land and housing. Vermont will look different with more trees and less open pasture, cornfields, and hay fields along its highways; but adaptation is necessary.

Most farms consist of a central area near a road where the house, barn, and other outbuildings are – not to mention the heap of silage with the old tires on top. The rest of the farm is fields used to raise hay or corn or for grazing (not so much anymore). The central areas are very suitable to developing housing which will be at least as scenic as a tumbledown barn. Depending on the location, it could be medium density naturally affordable housing or more expensive housing for those who want to live surrounded by a woods full of recreational opportunity. The fields become forest.

Trees take carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it in the ground where it improves the soil. Dairy farms are a major source of methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Forests are resilient to climate change because they reduce runoff in extreme weather events and provide local cooling.  Wood buildings are making a comeback because the wood used for construction keeps carbon locked up while concrete production is a huge emitter of greenhouse gasses.  Forest land is used more and more often for recreation including biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. That use will more than compensate for the loss of some open vistas both to those of us who live here and potential visitors.

If the combination of revenue from some development, wood harvesting, carbon credits for the carbon sequestered by the trees is large enough, the land can be sold for enough to allow selling farm families a happy retirement – or a chance to go into the forestry business. My hope is that with some change of regulations and permitting reform, private capital and the opportunity for profit can make this conversion to a wood crop a sustainable program without the need for constant subsidy. That’s yet to be proven and I’ll write more about the opportunities and the challenges.

If government money is needed, we have some available if we stop subsidizing failing dairy farms. We have more available in federal reforestation funds in the infrastructure bill which already passed. The Vermont legislature should be looking at support for reforestation as a much more effective way of reducing Vermont greenhouse gas emissions than subsidizing electric cars for rich people or increasing the cost of energy for everyone.

Preserving the status quo – even a scenic status quo – is not an option. Changing crops as the world changes has always been the Vermont tradition.

See also:

Trees v. Solar Panels

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

December 15, 2021

Democrats and Republicans Both Fear the Next Election Will be Stolen

They’re both giving us all plenty of reason to worry.

Exhibit number one is rightly Trump’s January 9 coup attempt. Even though some of the participants might have been legitimate demonstrators who got swept up and carried away, those who planned this attempted insurrection should be indicted for the highest crime which can be proven against them – including treason. If there is evidence against Trump himself, he certainly should not be spared punishment; he’s already earned disgrace. It is also frightening that so many (but certainly not all Republicans) have refused to condemn Trump and his refusal to accept the election results.

On the bright side, resistance to overturning the election was bipartisan. Mike Pence never waivered in his duty to certify the election results. The Supreme Court, despite three Trump appointees, gave no credence or support to his absurd claims. As far as I know, neither did any other federal judge regardless of party affiliation.

Giving non-citizens the right to vote is a transparent attempt by urban Democrats from Winooski to NYC to keep their control of local government despite the unpopularity of recent initiatives like ‘defund the police’. It is also an insult to the generations of immigrants who have made America great and earned their citizenship.

Protecting the right to vote with mail ballots was the right thing to do in a pandemic. Vastly expanding the use of mail ballots – especially sending out unsolicited mail ballots – without putting safeguards in place sounds to Republicans like a Democrat effort to steal elections. It’s at least stupid if not mis-intended. On the other hand, Republicans who don’t want unrestricted mail ballots sound to Democrats as if they are trying to shrink the electorate to their own advantage. On the third hand, it’s racist to think that Black people won’t be able to vote if we all must show ID or register.

Republicans are trying to change state election procedure by changing state law, sometimes in ways that will make local election officials less independent. But not every action they propose has either evil intent or an evil result. In an article in Monday’s New York Times, David Leonhardt lumps together very bad ideas like an attempt in Arizona to let the legislature overturn a Presidential election result in the state any time up until inauguration day and ideas which may have partisan motivation but are not undemocratic like an effort in Pennsylvania to make the secretary of state, who oversees elections, an elected rather an appointed official.

Democrats are trying to change state election procedure with federal legislation over-ruling traditional state control of elections while D’s still have control in Washington. That’s scary, too. On the other hand, there was a long period of American history when Blacks were effectively denied the right to vote by state law and action; federal intervention was needed to right that wrong.

Both sides are still trying to gerrymander wherever they can. Gerrymandered districts have been very harmful to American democracy because they protect incumbents from all dangers except a primary defeat by someone more extreme in their district.

The danger of election tampering from inside or outside the country is very real in the age of cyber-attacks. We need non-partisan action on that problem ASAP. Instead we get very partisan accusations.

Where we are is dangerous. Our suspicions of each other are making it harder to safeguard our elections. As we’ve seen, any suspicion that an election has been stolen is corrosive to democracy.

Even though some Republicans sincerely believe that Trump did win the election, it is time for Republican leaders who know better to say so - and to condemn his actions. Even though some Democrats believe that any regulation of elections is an attempt to disenfranchise “their” voters and is racist to the core, it is time for Democratic leaders to support reasonable election safeguards and stop trying to pad the voter rolls with non-citizens.

It’s time for us all to admit that we seek personal and partisan advantage when we can, unwind the conspiracy theories, and try to win elections by aggressively supporting good people who run for office.

See also: The Last Election Wasn’t Stolen

December 06, 2021

Freedom Has Consequences

“No one has the right to tell me what I put into my body!!!”

“I have the right to take my drugs of choice!!”

“I’m not a slave; I don’t have to work!”

Suppose I don’t want to get vaccinated. Let’s ignore the fact that I put others at risk with my choice. Am I willing to accept the consequences? In Singapore the unvaccinated have to pay for their Covid treatment. Am I willing to go the end of queue for an ICU bed or for Covid meds? If I won’t take the consequences, then I don’t have the right to the freedom.

Outlawing drugs doesn’t work anymore than outlawing alcohol did. Many have paid a terrible price for their alcoholism; some have overcome it. The choice to use other drugs shouldn’t be a choice without consequences. The destigmatizing of drug abuse – “substance use disorder” – is not helpful to individuals or society. Everyone deserves a second chance. However, a lifetime free supply of Narcan or methadone is not a basic human right. We can’t have the freedom to make bad choices if we don’t have personal responsibility for consequences.

There have been some consequences for those who oversupplied and overprescribed opioids. However, drug manufacturers and distributors have also been awarded a vast new market for “maintenance” drugs paid for not by their users but by the rest of us. More a reward than a consequence.

Food and housing, we hear, are basic human rights. Work, however, is a basic human responsibility. If I choose not to work….

We can choose to have a society which allows a great range of personal freedom. We can choose to have a society which protects us from the consequence of bad choices. We can’t have both.

November 04, 2021

Tuesday’s Elections Were Depolarizing

The results show how much Trump hurt Republicans in 2020.

There’s no question that Joe Biden got many more votes than Donald Trump in 2020. Many of the swing votes for Biden in 2020 from independents and moderate Republicans (like me) were actually anti-Trump votes much as many of the swing votes when Trump was elected the first time were anti-Hillary votes (again like mine). By November of 2020 Trump was already threatening to ignore election results he didn’t like; this alone showed him unfit for office.

In the November election Republicans other than Trump actually did well and Rs gained seats in the House. By the time of the Georgia runoffs, Trump’s megalomania and refusal to accept defeat cost Republicans control of the Senate. The reaction to progressive’s absurd call for defunding police, blatantly racist politics, and intolerance for free speech was dampened by the damage Trump did at the top of the ticket.

On Tuesday in local races nationwide the anti-progressive reaction continued. The surprising results were in blue and purple states. Virginia, which Biden carried by 10 points, elected not one but three Republicans at the top of the ticket – including its first Black female lt. governor and its first Latino attorney general. Deep blue Seattle, badly damaged by looting and beset by homeless problems, has a non-partisan mayoral election. The over-whelming winner is committed to rebuilding the police. Seattle also elected Anne Davison city attorney. She said that she believes the job of her office is to maintain laws so there is public safety. Her opponent, according to King 5 News, “is a self-described abolitionist who wanted to reimagine the City Attorney’s Office and how it prosecutes offenders.”. Prosecutors who promised to do their job of prosecuting crime were elected all over the country regardless of party affiliation.

In very Democratic New York State, there were ballot items which would have allowed same-day registration and no-fault absentee voting; both were defeated by 3-2 margins. Apparently the democratic voters in that state do not agree with the progressive orthodoxy that every safeguard in elections, even ones which have been around forever, are a Republican plot.

Eric Adams, the new mayor of New York, is a Black Democrat. He’s also a pragmatic ex-cop who’s pushed back against the racially polarizing policies of the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, and is committed to effective policing.

These were all state and local races and I think they were decided on state and local issues. Even if there were not an impasse between moderate and progressive Democrats which has stalled passage of the Biden agenda, I think the result would have been the same. Similarly, since these were local races, the all-to-present ghost of Donald Trump was not as damaging to Republicans as it was in 2020 and will be again in 2022 if they continue to allow themselves to be drawn into his web of reckless deceit. On the other hand, almost half the country voted for him in the last election so it’s not easy to disavow him and still win elections. That’s the Republican dilemma.

If Democrats want to remain a power locally and nationally, they have a similar dilemma. Their albatross is the progressives and their racist and inane policies. Many Americans, especially young Americans “educated” to forget the failures of socialism and to over-emphasize the injustices in American history, believe in the progressive agenda as sincerely as die-hard Trumpers believe that the 2020 election was stolen. The Democrat’s dilemma is how to win elections without playing to this constituency.

The future of the country may depend on how well the parties can tack back to a reasonable center. I think the party which escapes its radical wing first wins the next election. At least I hope so.

October 28, 2021

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

Vermont Carbon Budget Numbers Won’t Please the Green-Industrial Complex.

The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), which was passed by the Legislature in the last session over Gov. Scott’s veto, contains a requirement that the Vermont Climate Council create a Carbon Inventory for Vermont. A draft of that inventory called Carbon Budget from a subcommittee of the Council is now available. If the full Council pays as much attention to its own carbon budget as it should, it will realize that there is a doable path to carbon neutrality which has the twin benefits of being achievable and NOT bankrupting Vermont.

Here are three headline numbers from the carbon budget:

  1. In 2020 it is estimated that burning of fossil fuel for energy will add 8.6 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere (MMT CO2-e).
  2. In 2018 (the last year we have information for), Vermont forests REMOVED 5.2 MMT CO2-e from the atmosphere. (I and others have argued that this number should be much higher but the number in the budget is estimated according to standards and methodologies which are generally accepted nationally and blessed by the UN so let’s go with it). The photosynthesis which uses sunlight to turn atmospheric CO2 into carbon which is stored in the ground, in the trunk and branches of our treesand oxygen which goes back into the air is a form of carbon sequestration.
  3. With other puts-and-takes, the budget estimates that current annual NET emissions – the net amount of CO2-e Vermont adds to the atmosphere – is currently “only” 5.65 MMT CO2-e.

5.65 MMT of reduction is a much easier goal to hit than 8.6. Simply increasing the amount of forested land by converting uneconomic dairy farms to trees and better management of the 75% of Vermont which is already forested would take us within spitting distance even given the conservative carbon accounting in the budget.

But what is our goal?

Section 592 of GWSA says:


The Plan shall include specific initiatives, programs, and strategies that will:
(1) reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation, building, regulated utility, industrial, commercial, and agricultural sectors;
(2) encourage smart growth and related strategies;
(3) achieve long-term sequestration and storage of carbon and promote best management practices to achieve climate mitigation, adaption, and resilience on natural working lands;
(4) achieve net [emphasis mine] zero emissions by 2050 across all sectors…

That seems to be pretty clear and has an appropriate emphasis on how we actually affect the atmosphere. However, Section 578 says:

Vermont shall reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from within the geographical boundaries of the State and those emissions outside the boundaries of the State that are caused by the use of energy in Vermont …  by:
(1) not less than 26 percent from 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by January 1, 2025…
(2) not less than 40 percent from 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by January 1, 2030 pursuant to the State’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan; and
(3) not less than 80 percent from 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by January 1, 2050 pursuant to the State’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan.

Note that there is nothing in Section 578 which talks about “net” reductions. This section isn’t about effect on the atmosphere; it is about justifying huge expenditures for incentives for electric vehicles, heat pumps, solar panels, and wind turbines! If we squander money on the short-term unachievable goals of Section 578, we won’t be able to reach the long-term goals of Section 529 which are the only ones that matter if you’re concerned about the effect on climate of atmospheric CO2.

So what’s going to happen?

The Climate Council will probably make recommendations to the legislature which almost exclusively rely on elimination of fossil fuels to achieve the short-term goals as section 578 seems to require. They will largely ignore the carbon already being sequestered by Vermont forests and the potential for much more of the same.

This year the State will have enormous amounts of federal funds available for “climate change”. Instead of using those funds to make lasting change, they will be frittered away on subsidies for things like electric cars (going to happen anyway and make less difference than you would think) and cold weather heat pumps (haven’t proven effective). The funds that are doled out to favored industries won’t be available for actual long term effective reduction of emissions. Eventually the federal funds will run out and the incentive programs will either die or, worse, be replaced by mandates.

What should happen?

The Climate Council mandate allows it to suggest changes in legislation. It should suggest that the language in Section 578 be dropped since it unwisely constrains the solutions available to us and is not about actual environmental effect. It should insist that mitigation strategies and expenditures be weighed by the net amount of atmospheric CO2-e reduced per dollar spent. The Carbon Budget makes it clear we can get from here to there, that we can become carbon neutral without bankrupting the state.

See also:

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

The Science Behind the Trillion Tree Campaign

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October 22, 2021

CDC Authorizes Boosters for Those Who Got Moderna or J&J Initial Shots

How many people have died because these approvals were caught in bureaucracy for at least a month?

Yes, people who have declined vaccination are a risk to others. Yes, there should be requirements for vaccination. Yes, vaccination saves lives – not only of those who get the jab but of the people they don’t spread the virus to.

So why the hell haven’t I been able to get my Moderna booster in the month since Pfizer boosters were approved? Why can’t I sign up for it now (I tried!), Why aren’t children over the age of five getting their shots? The President says vaccines save lives; he’s right. But inaction in the government he runs is killing people willing to be vaccinated by denying them the shots they need. Yes. Killing people. Vaccinations save lives; not getting fully vaccinated – whether by choice or because the government still forbids it, kills people. It’s really that simple.

Ever since the third dose of Pfizer was authorized for vulnerable populations, it’s been clear that Moderna and J&J boosters were going to be authorized “soon”.  I’m vulnerable by age so will probably get my Moderna booster soon. But why have I had to wait? Not for new data. The data is in; the effectiveness of the original shots fade with time like many vaccinations. Israel and other countries have been giving 3rd shots for a while so we know that they do save lives and do not seem to have short-term negative effects. We’re not waiting for data; we’re waiting for bureaucracy. First the FDA staff recommends (no one really cares what they recommend); then the FDA consultants recommend (they were unanimous on Moderna and J&J boosters); then the FDA chief weighs in; then – all of that being done – the CDC has to go through their bureaucratic process. Today a CDC advisory panel recommended the booster and tonight the CDC director signed off (can’t complain about the time between those two steps).

The states have been planning for approval; good for them. But they couldn’t finish their planning without knowing what twists would be in CDC “recommendations”. Hopefully we’ll be able to sign up for shots tomorrow. I’ll be up early and trying. Meanwhile people have been dying and infecting others while they wait. If you don’t believe that, you don’t believe vaccines save lives.

Dr. Fauci said a couple of weeks ago that it’s now clear that people who got the J&J shot should really have gotten a booster after two months. Good for him being honest; there’s no shame in the fact that we’re learning as we go along. But, if we now know that they were under-vaccinated to begin with; how can it be possible that we still haven’t gotten around to authorizing their boosters? This is an emergency.

Similarly. It’s understandable that we didn’t initially rush to approve vaccines for children. They weren’t hard hit by the first wave of the pandemic, and they are not the same as adults. More studies were needed. Those studies have been done for a while now. It was predictable that the virus would mutate to attack vulnerable populations passed over the first time and uninoculated. It was predictable that children in school – and they do have to be in school – would be potent vectors for a third wave of infection.  We all know that kids are going to be authorized in November. The data is in. What the hell are we waiting for; why are we going to let the virus have another Halloween surge?

This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s an issue of competence and resolve. If you believe that some of the unwilling should be required to be vaccinated in order to go to work, school, or use public transport, how can you not be outraged that the willing were not allowed to have the booster shots whose effectiveness has already been proven? We should have been demonstrating in the streets if we weren’t too afraid of COVID to go out in crowds. We should not be patient with bipartisan federal incompetence – death resulting.

Update: By 615 this morning (morning after evening approval by the CDC) CVS had updated their website to enable those who'd had Moderna and J&J to make appointments and I was able to get an appointment for today. State of Vermont taking appointments as of 8AM. That is good fast work.

See also: Walk the Vaccination Walk!

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