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?

January 03, 2020

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

We should never send troops – or diplomats - into harm’s way unless we are willing to defend them. Defending them means both firing back when fired on and preventing attacks in the first place. Defending our troops and diplomats requires disproportionate – not tit-for-tat – response. They are not pawns to be traded-off for pawns on the other side. It is entirely appropriate if killing an American private costs a general his life. General Qassem Soleimani had many American lives on his hands; by his own boasts, he was ready to take more.  It’s fortunate that we were able to end his bloody career with the only apparent collateral damage being a few of his partners in crime.

The America troops in Iraq are there lawfully. Their presence was requested by Iraq (they may be unrequested now by an Iranian-fearing government in Iraq). The US Congress authorized their presence both in an open-ended war against terror resolution in 2001 and in a 2002 resolution for war in Iraq. The troops are funded by annual appropriations passed by Congress.

Iran and Iranian proxies have been steadily testing America’s resolve. They shot down an unarmed drone; Trump decided not to retaliate saying no Americans were harmed. They blew up much of a Saudi refinery; neither Saudi Arabia or the US retaliated. The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), nominally Iraqi militias but under the effective control of Iran, have been firing missiles at US bases in Iraq. A little over a week ago, they managed to kill an American contractor and injure several other Americans.

Turned out the redline against harming Americans was not drawn in sand. The US responded with airstrikes which killed 27 members of Kataib Hezbollah, a PMF militia. Interestingly, Congresspeople seemed not to object to this response – just pawns for pawns.

PMF militias then attacked the US embassy in Baghdad, something they wouldn’t have done without the support of Iran and couldn’t have done without the acquiescence of the Iraqi government. An attack on an embassy is the same as an attack on the sovereign territory of the embassy’s owner; it is an act of war. If you are as old as me, you remember that the Iranian regime went unpunished for occupying the American embassy in Tehran and holding American’s hostage. I’m sure Soleimani remembered that.

We reinforced the embassy as we should have. We refrained from shooting more than teargas at the militia storming the gates. Soleimani rushed in from Syria. He was either met or accompanied by Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces. The Pentagon said they were planning an attack on American interest; that’s not very hard to believe even without specific intelligence. Incredibly we knew exact details of the visit including when the convoy would be isolated on an airport road. We acted both to prevent future attacks and to make clear that even high-ranking generals responsible for American deaths are as vulnerable as their troops to our retaliation. It was an opportunity we had to use.  We did.

The President has the authority to protect American troops on a mission approved by Congress; he did that. There was no time to consult with Congress and the possibility of leaks would have endangered the mission, the troops, and the diplomats. He does owe Congress a full report.

The argument that this will make the world more dangerous because it angers the Iranian leadership is absurd; they already hate us; they are already dedicated to our destruction. We have been the “Great Satan” since the days of Jimmy Carter. Hopefully, and it’s only a hope, they will moderate their behavior when our response punishes more than just Iranian surrogate pawns.

We owe it to our troops and our diplomats to view this action and our actions in the coming days in a non-partisan way. Doesn’t matter whether you love Trump or hate him; doesn’t matter how impeachment or the next election is affected; what matters is what’s best for American and what will best protect American lives.

We can withdraw our troops and diplomats from Iraq. That’s what Iran wants but it is a far better alternative then leaving them there and refusing to defend them both reactively and proactively. We cannot let any Iranian “revenge” go unanswered. We must continue disproportionate response when Americans are harmed or threatened anywhere in the world. This is how we say “Thank you for your service!”

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