Friday, November 28, 2014

The War on Science... a War on Earth... and by Christmas?

The U.S. military leadership is in unified agreement that climate change is real, that it is human caused, and also that it poses a clear and present danger to the US and especially its armed forces. "The Pentagon's thinking is revealed plainly and publicly in its own 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, which features no fewer than eight direct, specific, and unambiguous evaluations of climate change as it relates to geopolitics and military strategy."

See also: The Pentagon's Guide to Overcoming Climate Change Denial.  And note this: the U.S. military officer corps is the third best-educated clade in American life, after university professors and medical doctors. The senior ranks are filled with brilliant men and women... (plus about 20% blithering... but no comment about that.)

 Ah, but the U.S. Officer Corps is no longer respected in the heartland.  As of November 2013, 23 percent of Americans said they "didn't believe in" climate change.  Which will be about as effective as not believing in a bullet that's been fired at your nose.  No wonder a cult-like tenor has set in, waging war not just on science but every other clade or profession of knowledge and skill in American life. (Name one exception.)

(Multiple datasets have confirmed it was the warmest October on record for the globe, keeping the planet on a course toward its toastiest year.)

To be clear, the unequivocal position by the U.S. military has had some effects upon the Fox party line.  Facts like Russian bases erupting along the Arctic Ocean and the opening of the Northwest Passage to summer shipping are pretty undeniable… so Hannity and company have veered to changing the message: "All right, the climate is changing… but… but… climate has ALWAYS been changing and that don't mean we gotta do anything!"

In fact, that's a lie, top to bottom. The last 6000 years has been among the most stable, climate-wise, in the last 20 million… and even so, small perturbations like the 1500s Little Ice Age wrought horrible havoc on nations and peoples. Any astrophysicist will show you how closely Earth skates along the inner edge of our sun's "goldilocks" or habitable zone… and hence why we can afford only traces of greenhouse gas.

But the greatest sign of stunning low-IQ is how Fox-viewers never notice the change in catechism!  From "there's no warming!" over to "all right it's hotter: but prove that it's human generated!"  It's like the millions of Glenn Beck followers who never once asked "WHICH eight foreign governments did you say George Soros toppled?"

These and dozens of other, never asked questions show that this is the greatest know-nothing campaign against a sapient, scientific civilization in 150 years. Possibly since the Inquisition.  And you have to ask: what do Rupert and his partners hope to gain?

While the vast majority of scientists in climate, atmospheres and weather agree on the essentials of human induced climate change, there are some areas wherein intense argument and discussion rage.  Such as whether the steady and dramatic arctic warming trends (leading the U.S. Navy to plan how to counter 12 new navigable ports bring built by the Russian Navy) might reach a "tipping point," releasing megatonnes of methane from both permafrost and undersea hydrate ices.  If that happened, the burst of greenhouse gas would make Al Gore look like a pollyanna.  But can it happen?

Well, it will have to be investigated by Europeans and Asians, because Legislatures in the U.S., Canada and Australia have been deliberately sabotaging the research we need, in order to settle these matters.  There is no greater treason to humanity, of course, than banning objective research into a potential civilization failure mode.  And if the worst does happen, there won't be a human being on Earth who will admit to ever having been a republican.

== Skeptics vs Deniers ==

Let's drill down into one of the top denialist rationalizations... that they are doing science the service of Skeptical questioning.  That it is about "skeptical-free minds posing questions that science should answer." 

In fact, this is a lie based on a powerful truth -- that science does need to be incessantly poked by vigorous critics, in order to function well and evade many types of observer bias. In fact, that process continues, completely outside the denialist cult. And here is where I describe how to tell the difference.

Skepticism and questions? Sure. Berkeley's Richard Muller showed how to do that. Muller revealed how aggressively competitive science is, normally. Indeed, he shrugged off some intemperate reactions  and stuck to his guns, demanding answers... till finally the climate science was good enough to satisfy his pre-set criteria. At which point he said: "okay I'm convinced."  What he did NOT do was move the goal posts, in service of a dogma. 

(This story is typical among scientists, the most competitive and smartest and (generally) sanest members of our civilization, and the folks against whom Fox is most openly at-war.)

No, this is about dogmatic cultists refusing even to negotiate. How can they refuse even to discuss RandD efforts that would be economic win-wins? Arm-waving that any measures to improve energy efficiency  will mean "impoverishment" and "shivering in the dark," they ridicule even the possibility of "compromise" investments -- Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway (TWODA).  Masures that could increase efficiency and save consumers billions? (As the 2009 CAFE standards have done?) 

Measures we should take, out of simple, rational precaution... just in case the scientists who actually know stuff turn out to be right, after all.

Read that several times. Can anyone defend such a reflexive stance? Pushed by the exact same forces who proclaimed "cars don't cause smog" and "tobacco is good for you."

Ask this: Who on Earth benefits from continued energy inefficiency? That small group happens to perfectly overlap with the funders of the cult.

See a way to tell the two apart, here: Distinguishing Climate Deniers and Skeptics.

 == Historical Context ==

“The Church has, for decades, taken the position that faith and science need not be opposed to one another. As the Catechism states, “methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.”

“Political leaders never used to care who scientists voted for or whether they believed in God. Scientists were not seen as Democrats or Republicans. (This change did not begin with Ted Cruz and his Luddite colleagues.) In 2006, I wrote a piece for The New Yorker on the Bush Administration’s war on science. It noted that “Vannevar Bush was a conservative who opposed the New Deal, and not quietly. Yet President Roosevelt didn’t hesitate to appoint him, or to take his advice. 

"In 1959, after Dwight Eisenhower created the position of science adviser, in the wake of Sputnik, the Harvard chemist George B. Kistiakowsky assumed the post. Jerome Wiesner, a Democrat who subsequently became president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sat on the Science Advisory Committee—which met each month with Kistiakowsky and often with the President. When John F. Kennedy took office, Kistiakowsky and Wiesner simply switched roles.” None of that would be conceivable today.”

== And pertinent... ==

Lessons from history: Apparently extensive drought destroyed the indestructible Assyrian Empire. A lesson for those os us downstream who are facing similar problems. (Or in frantic-psychotic denial.)  

Wow, unpleasant to contemplate: “The global debris layer created by the end-Cretaceous impact at Chicxulub contained enough soot to indicate that the entire terrestrial biosphere had burned. Preliminary modeling showed that the reentry of ejecta would have caused a global infrared (IR) pulse sufficient to ignite global fires within a few hours of the Chicxulub impact. This heat pulse and subsequent fires explain the terrestrial survival patterns in the earliest Paleocene, because all the surviving species were plausibly able to take shelter from heat and fire underground or in water.” 

== And Science News From the Kurzweil Files ==

In radio terms, “full-duplex” refers to the ability to transmit and receive signals simultaneously, as in cell-phone conversations. Till now it required a magnetic-based “recirculator” the size of your palm. Now an advance may let itbe miniaturized, freeing bandwidth.

Either we grab this power for the people, or we meet Big Brother. University of Washington electrical engineers have developed a way to automatically track people across moving and still cameras by using an algorithm that trains the networked cameras to learn one another’s differences. The cameras first identify a person in a video frame, then follow that same person across multiple camera views.  – Seriously, read the first two pages of TheTransparent Society.

Nick Bostrom thinks three looming technologies might pose “existential risks” nanotech, synthetic biology and super artificial intelligence.  Notably in this talk at UC Berkeley, promoting his new book SUPERINTELLIGENCE: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, he downgrades “last week’s” obsessions — nuclear war and ecological degradation.  One interesting assertion is that   a key may be to get these things “in the right order.” Certainly if we get super intelligence first — and assuming we get a soft landing into a pleasant and accommodating kind of AI, then it might help us resolve all the other threats.

“It’s an open question” whether we’ll get super-intelligence via artificial (AI) systems or else by enhancing biological powers of thought.

== The War by Christmas ==

It would be one thing if the fanatics bent on expanding Christmas beyond all reason were all about proselytizing the messages of that bearded-beaded hippie, Jesus. At least that would be un-hypocritical. But why the all-out assault on the best and most-pure holiday in the American calendar... Thanksgiving?  The only one not ruined by commercialization or polarization.  That is, till this year ended every last pretense.

Like Halloween, Thanksgiving is spreading around the world purely on its merits, without any of the aggressive hype that is being used by the forces of Christmas... who are now blasting past Thanksgiving and Halloween with jingles and "black" door-buster days, determined to spread the "cheer" of fanatical greed and crass-manipulation past Columbus Day (now "Indigenous Peoples' Day" -- a topic for another time) and the equinox, with their gaze set upon the real objective...

...Independence Day.

That movie didn't lie.  We are under attack.  Ho-ho-ho.


Stefan Jones said...

I lieu of Black Friday shopping* I went to see Big Hero Six, a charming, exciting, and positive Disney Animation movie. It is set in San Franciokyo, a super-high-tech alternate history city that I badly want to visit.

Young hero Hiro and his friends are Super Makers, not super heroes. He doesn't aspire to get into Hogwarts, learn the force, or master the Magic Whatsit passed down to him by his father . . . he wants to go to engineering school! There's a McMaster-Carr catalog visible on a bookshelf, clear evidence that the film makers DID THEIR HOMEWORK.

*Well, I DID go to three Goodwill thrift stores, which were pleasingly bustling with REAL bargain shoppers.

Dan Pangburn said...

Climate has always changed. The last change was that it stopped warming. Search "agwunveiled" to discover the two factors that cause the uptrends and down trends of climate change and why CO2 change is not one of them.

David Brin said...

Dan Pangburn how sad that you feel impelled to use incantations to reinforce a bizarre notion, that you are vastly smarter than the world's smartest people. Please... come back here when you can parse (or even define) the navier-stokes equations or craft your own cellular gas-vapor balance model, capable or predicting weather TEN DAYS into the future.

(The old-joke "weather reports" failed after two hours.)

Um... you can't do any of that? How about successfully modeling climate on SIX planets? No? The people who have done all those things are vastly, vastly smarter than you are... yet you demean and disgrace them.

ALL of them think we should take warnings seriously and take reasonable precautions. But your puppet masters offer you an incantation or two and suddenly, you know everything.

Oh, what a wonder it must be, to be you.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

I have been doing most of my holiday shopping on line, and well in advance, for several years, now. I try to stay out of the feeding frenzy.

As far as the climate deniers go, it seems like there are essentially two groups. One is the instigators, who very clearly represent the industrial sectors that don't want to pay to clean up their mess. These guys should be obvious - just ask "cui bono?" Who benefits? But this special interest block needs votes on their side, and in my experience, most of the people who swallow the propaganda are motivated by religious thinking. This has two components. The first of these is segmentary (referring to Evans-Pritchard's Law of Segmentary Opposition). Superficially there seems to be conflict between science and religion (if you are not very creative in how you think about these) so they have chosen one side and will always vote against the other on any issue. The other side is a product of the wishful thinking fallacy. They feel that whichever god they believe in controls the weather and climate, and will not allow us humans to impact it. Limbaugh used to announce that it is sheer arrogance to assume that we puny humans can have any lasting impact on God's earth. I first heard this while in college, learning about how desertification and runaway erosion led to the collapse of many past civilizations.

With this in mind, it seems to me that it may be more useful in combating the war on science by pointing as much as possible to both scientific traditions in religion, and to interpretations of religion that allow for their coexistence, such as Gould's idea of NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magesteria). Here is a link to Gould, if anyone is curious. If you google it you will find there is criticism of the concept, but I have still found it quite useful, especially when teaching evolution to high school students. Most are okay with the idea once you disspell some of the myths.

Happy cogitation!

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dr. Brin,
I was just looking at your article on how to tell the difference between a skeptic and a denier, and it's a great piece of critical thinking. However, it is way too long to make my students read, especially Freshmen. Do you have a shorter version, something in the neighborhood of 2-3 pages?

Laurent Weppe said...

"Facts like Russian bases erupting along the Arctic Ocean and the opening of the Northwest Passage to summer shipping are pretty undeniable…"

It's tangential, but since it's an opportunity to bash bowing-down-to-russia's-lordlings right-wingers who for once aren't Americans:
The french far-right party Front National just accepted a 40 million Euros loan by a russian bank helmed by an oligarch close to Putin (for US readers who may believe that 40 million is not a big sum: political campaigns are capped in France: you're not allowed to spend more than 21,5 million if you're a presidential candidate, so 40 million is quite a large sum considering local rules): this loudly anti-communist, anti-foreigner party has willingly accepted to whore itself to a foreign power helmed by a former KGBist: if one still needed more evidence that nationalistic jingoism is a tool for perfidious demagogues hiding their contempt for the masses behind shoddy pseudo-populistic rhetoric they, themselves, never believed...


"come back here when you can parse (or even define) the navier-stokes equations or craft your own cellular gas-vapor balance model, capable or predicting weather TEN DAYS into the future [...] Um... you can't do any of that? How about successfully modeling climate on SIX planets? No? The people who have done all those things are vastly, vastly smarter than you are"

They may not actually be smarter, but they are most certainly more honest and dedicated to their craft

David Brin said...

Mr. Weppe. The whole situation in Russia raises my hackles. Something is strange and the sci fi guy in me admits to having an (unlikely) theory.

See this:

Then posit that ALL of these guys were raised as devout communists. Many were KGB.
Now actually read Marx and examine what Marx said would be the format of a society just before it has its Rise of the Proletariate.

David Brin said...

BTW... I will not spell out the rest of my theory... but if I disappear in the next 6 months, shout my suspicion from the rooftops! ;-)

Pietro said...

As a non-American, I will admit that I'm not at all a fan of the way in which Halloween and Thanksgiving are becoming more and more popular over here.

It's not that I have anything against these celebrations in themselves: if I happened to be visiting the U.S. during these times, I'd be very happy to take part in them.

But, well, over here we *do* have a number of celebrations of our own which are falling into disuse, and I'd rather revitalize them than blindly copy another tradition.

Ultimately, it seems to me, a world in which US celebrates Thanksgiving, Italy celebrates the Epifania, Poland celebrates Marzanna, the Netherlands celebrate Koningsdag, Finland has its midsummer celebrations and so on is more interesting than one in which you can find the exact same traditions whenever you go...

Laurent Weppe said...

"Mr. Weppe. The whole situation in Russia raises my hackles. Something is strange and the sci fi guy in me admits to having an (unlikely) theory."

Yeah, yeah, I know your pet theory about Putin being a sincere Marxist pulling a Leto II Atreides: being the worst despot possible to make sure that the corrupt regime he inherited cannot survive him.

More likely, Putin & co were all raised to perceive themselves as the rightful "new" russian aristocracy and proved to be no different from 19th century's Bourbons: they forgot nothing (especially the humiliation of seeing the regime which put them on top collapsing under the weight of its own corruption), and they learned nothing: single-mindedly working toward retaking their status and privileges, willfully blind that they are mimicking their predecessors' very aristocratic egoism and conceitedness: the ones which caused their downfall in the first place.

DP said...

Short of Lockheed Martin's recently announced fusion breakthrough becoming real and replacing fossil fuels with small compact fusion reactors (and even smaller ones like "Mr. Fusion" from "Back to the Future" - where we're going we don't need roads!), the next best thing is to promote the coming Golden Age of Methane.

Sorry folks, solar and renewable won't cut it - and don't get me started on bio-fuels like our current ethanol boondoggle. And if we tried to replace fossil fuels with 100% solar and wind, we'd be destroying huge areas of habitat to construct wind farms and solar arrays. Compared with a coal burning plant whose physical footprint (including the employee parking lot) is only a few dozen acres, a solar/wind facility producing the same amount of energy would require hundreds of square miles.

And those PVC panels installed on your roof? Well they don't last forever. Current warranties run 10 to 15 years after which they have to be replaced. Modern, efficient PVCs are chock full of iridium, selenium, arsenide and lots of other nasty toxic metals and chemicals. Going full PVC will present us with a huge toxic waste disposal problem. As will battery cars. Even the best rechargeable battery wears out over time, and a worn out battery is a lump of toxic waste. Given the number of cars we throw away this year, try to imaging the toxic waste headache created by battery cars.

All of the above would result in energy that is more expensive than fossil fuels. That makes us all poorer in real terms. In short solar is bad for both the economy and the environment. Solar is stupid.

Methane, OTOH burns clean and methane power plants are far more efficient than coal plants while producing less than 40% of GHG than a coal plant per kWh generated. Forget about battery cars, CNG vehicles are far more cost effective and environmentally friendly. If we could overnight cut our GHG emissions by 60% any sensible person would see that as a major ecological victory - unless you are a tree hugging hippie who believes that the perfect should be the enemy of the good.

It turns out that the chemicals used in fraking are relatively innocuous (surfactants like those found in commercial products, rust inhibitors, etc.) and are far less dangerous than chemicals found on a typical shop floor. All the action takes place miles below ground water bearing strata and separated by layers of impermeable bedrock.

There is no war on coal, except by the fraking industry. Coal can't compete with cheap methane, and that is wonderful. Coal is dirty, coal is dangerous. Coal companies chop off mountain tops and fill valleys in Appalachia with acidic mine waste. Coal companies cut corners on mine safety to save money and miners die as a result. If solar is stupid, then coal is evil.

Provided that the extracted brine is properly removed, treated and disposed of and not injected into fracture zones that could trigger tremors - fraking is a unmitigated blessing to the economy, the environment and to geopolitics.

The last point is very important. America is on track to outproduce Saudi Arabia next year. And formations like the Bakken, Marcellus and Utica are still profitable even in oil prices collapse to $40 a barrel (less than $2 a gallon at the pump). we can and should flood the world with American oil and gas. As a result, all of those corrupt petro states like Russia and Iran will collapse taking their dictatorships with them.

The last remaining piece needed to bring us fully into the Golden age of Methane are Japanese advances in extracting methane from frozen clathrate formations on the ocean floors. The will have a clean compact cheap energy source lasting thousands of years.

Anonymous said...

Before you use "even the Pentagon thinks climate change is real, therefore it must be right" as an argument, please remember that they also have an action plan for a zombie apocalypse.

Jumper said...

Thanks for the Gould and all the other fine reading. I am in the midst of an archived Paris Review interview with Samuel Delaney which pointed me to this critique of historicism, in context of Asimov:

Re the solar power, we in the U.S. have twice the needed space above asphalt, meaning roads and parking lots. (Above them, not the silly "solar roads" thing) and rooftops are cheaper as a place to start. The toxics can be recycled, not landfilled.

Jumper said...

Anonymous is silly. The Pentagon in no way stresses the reality of Zombie Apocalypse. As if that even needs to be said.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Pietro, I would love to hear more about these customs. Evolutionary biologists know that diversity is strength, not weakness or "tolerance" - but they are looking at diversity in gene pools. Culture, however, is at least as important as genetics for humans, with their extra-large frontal lobes and the concomitant behavioral flexibility. So cultural diversity is as important to our survival as genetic diversity, not mere political correctness as the right wingers would have it. But evolutionary biologists also point to the fact that many species follow a path of increasing specialization, which results in reduced genetic diversity and ultimately extinction. Likewise the Americanization of the rest of the world decreases cultural diversity. This is a failure mode that is more difficult to dodge because you cannot predict which cultural variables will turn maladaptive under what circumstances. So for very scientific reasons I agree whole-heartedly with your aesthetic.

Mr. Duffy, you do not seem to have noticed the irony that you belittle solar because of the toxic waste problems (as Jumper rightly points out) while insisting that the toxic wastes involved in fracking can be dealt with. I would agree that burning methane would be a good alternative to coal. It does nothing to reduce the CO2 emissions, but it will reduce particulates, sulfates and nitrates. But your insistence on this and denigration of cleaner energy sources (you didn't mention offshore wind farms, which would mitigate some of the land use issues in coastal areas, where human populations are at their greatest densities) makes me ask the cui bono question.

On another, related matter, the push for solar energy in the last decade has equated solar with photovoltaics. Improvements in the technology makes this understandable, but we as a species seem to have forgotten many of the simpler and cheaper lessons of passive solar energy. This is about smart building practices, so it has no application to transportation. However, if we could replace the very inefficient architectural practices of the past century with more sensible design, we could see some very real reduction in CO2.

Happy cogitation!

Jumper said...

Correction, Paul: Methane has a higher energy content than coal - about twice per unit mass - and less CO2 and more H2O as exhaust. It should be phased out, but coal first.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Hi Jumper,
Higher energy content means less has to be burned to produce the same amount of heat, so it kind of washes out. Higher H2O can be a problem, though, as water traps more heat than CO2 (though it has a much shorter cycling time). Anyway, natural gas cannot be a permanent solution, only a transitional fuel. Anything that releases CO2 can only act like training wheels until we learn how to create an energy economy that doesn't soil the nest. You're absolutely right - coal has to go first, methane next. Ultimately all the fossil fuels have to go or we, as a species, are toast.

Alex Tolley said...

solar and renewable won't cut it
Even if this were true, that message you send is don't use it at all. That is senseless given that solar and wind are the least CO2 generating options when life cycles are fully taken into account.

we tried to replace fossil fuels with 100% solar and wind, we'd be destroying huge areas of habitat to construct wind farms and solar arrays.
Wind farms are quite happy coexisting with farmland. Europe is doing fine. Wind is already being sited offshore, reducing terrestrial impacts even further.

PVC panels installed on your roof? Well they don't last forever. Current warranties run 10 to 15 years after which they have to be replaced. Modern, efficient PVs are chock full of iridium, selenium, arsenide and lots of other nasty toxic metals and chemicals.
Propaganda. The amounts are trivial and can be recycled. You might as well stop using any microelectronic gear if you are that worried. Meanwhile coal stations are the largest emitters of mercury into the environment. Ditto batteries.

energy that is more expensive than fossil fuels. That makes us all poorer in real terms. In short solar is bad for both the economy and the environment. Solar is stupid.
It has already been demonstrated that wind is cheaper than coal in some US states. Solar is already competing with retail electricity prices in sun states and the costs are only moving in solar's favor. There is a reason that power companies are trying to stop rooftop PV.

Methane, OTOH burns clean
The issue isn't combustion, it is losses between the extraction and combustion. Methane is such a potent GHG that the estimated 5-15% losses at wellheads already results in a net warming.

It turns out that the chemicals used in fracking are relatively innocuous (surfactants like those found in commercial products, rust inhibitors, etc.) and are far less dangerous than chemicals found on a typical shop floor.
Propaganda again. If the chemicals are so innocuous, why does the industry keep them trade secrets if there is nothing to hide? There are far too many cases of well contamination associated with illness 6to brush this aside. There are also enough wells with methane in them to be dangerous to the householder. As for the depth, well we've just started a lawsuit in CA because fracking wells were illegally too shallow and contaminating aquifers.

The last remaining piece needed to bring us fully into the Golden age of Methane are Japanese advances in extracting methane from frozen clathrate formations on the ocean floors. The will have a clean compact cheap energy source lasting thousands of years.
The siren song of the fossil fuel industry. How many accidents does it take before this myth is dispelled. No doubt we will try mining clathrates, but as yet there are no regulations concerning controls on techniques, let alone a sudden methane release due to an "unforeseen" accident. By all means mine, but don't pretend this is some panacea.

Alex Tolley said...


Even if we replaced all energy production with perfect methane combustion, we would still have global warming due to CO2 release. It is already understood that fossil fuel reserves will have to be stranded to prevent that.

The best solutions are more efficient energy use, especially in construction (reduce concrete as a major CO2 emitter), reduced usage for heating and A/C of buildings, more efficient transport and better farming methods that do no require energy intensive fertilizers. Business as usual but with methane instead of coal and oil for power and transport is not going to cut it over the long term.

As for fracking and geopolitics, why do you think that crushing the economy of Russia will be an unmitigated blessing? History shows us that wars are started over less. Why would you assume Russia will remain passive and just quietly collapse if her economy fails due to its petro-state nature? Why would you assume that the rest of the world will applaud the USA as a major methane producer potentially controlling their economies?

DP said...

PSB - "It does nothing to reduce the CO2 emissions, but it will reduce particulates, sulfates and nitrates."

On a per kWh generated basis, methane power plants produce approximately 40% of the GHG compared to a coal burning plan:

Different fuels emit different amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) in relation to the energy they produce. To compare emissions across fuels, you should compare the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of energy output or heat content.

Pounds of CO2 emitted per million Btu of energy for various fuels:

Coal (anthracite) 228.6
Coal (bituminous) 205.7
Coal (lignite) 215.4
Coal (subbituminous) 214.3
Diesel fuel & heating oil 161.3
Gasoline 157.2
Propane 139.0
Natural gas 117.0

The amount of CO2 produced when a fuel is burned is a function of the carbon content of the fuel. The heat content or the amount of energy produced when a fuel is burned is mainly determined by the carbon (C) and hydrogen (H) content of the fuel. Heat is produced when C and H combine with oxygen (O) during combustion. Natural gas is primarily methane ( CH4), which has a higher energy content relative to other fuels, and thus, it has a relatively lower CO2-to-energy content. Water and various elements, such as sulfur and non-combustible elements in some fuels reduce their heating values and increase their CO2-to-heat contents.

The direct 50% reduction in CO2 from burning methane instead of coal is further reduced by the greater operational efficiency of gas power generators compared to coal powered generators.

As for fracking chemicals:

One team of scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder decided to study the surfactants that are used in fracking fluids. They concluded that these organic chemicals are no more harmful than what is already found in common household products, as published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

To investigate further, the authors of the new study collected fluid samples through partnerships between their institution and Colorado State University. They used state-of-the-art mass spectrometry to analyze the surfactants in the fluid samples, and concluded that they were no more harmful than the chemical compounds found in products such as laxatives, toothpaste and ice cream.

"This is the first published paper that identifies some of the organic fracking chemicals going down the well that companies use," lead study author Michael Thurman, a co-founder of the Laboratory for Environmental Mass Spectrometry in CU-Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Science, said in a statement. "We found chemicals in the samples we were running that most of us are putting down our drains at home."

Another reason why this study might be significant is that it demonstrated a way that researchers can "fingerprint" the unique proprietary blends of drilling fluids that fracking companies use. Such information will be useful in case of actual environmental contamination.

P.S. "Offshore" is also a habitat that is ruined by extensive wind farm construction.

Acacia H. said...

There is one thing to consider that makes natural gas a much better source of fuel than coal: it is a purer source of carbon and carbon dioxide.

You see, the most cost effective natural gas power plants will be those that capture all of the carbon generated in burning the fuel, stripping out any remaining contaminants (usually sulfur compounds), and use that carbon dioxide in greenhouses and algae farms to accelerate growth. You end up with a nearly carbon-zero energy source because of carbon capture - and you don't have to worry about nearly the level of heavy metal contaminants found in coal (I suppose you can always pretreat coal by grinding it into a powder and heating it to draw off the metals, but by doing so you just destroyed any "efficiency" standards for coal power).

Once three-dimensional printing becomes a big thing, no one is going to want to waste carbon by emitting it into the atmosphere. No, the real money will be in capturing the carbon and using it in 3D printing, especially if we get to the point that we can "print" food and the like from base elements.

And that will happen sooner than you'd think. I'd say within 20 years we'll see the majority of food made through three-dimensional printing. We'll still have cattle farms and the like, but that will sell to the rich who would consider "printed" food to be "inferior."

Rob H.

Jumper said...

I expect one can recover the heat of vaporization of H2O exhaust by heat exchangers on the air intake. I'm not up to date on that however.
I suspect that sequestration is more expensive than big solar, or at minimum about comparable with necessary storage of solar through nights and winters.

David Brin said...

Daniel D raises issues that merit give and take, but they boil down to just plain wrong.

The space issue for solar and wind is absurd. Just covering the California Aqueduct with panels would power a large portion of LA while reducing evaporation by half. Talk to me about habitat when all the easy, no-brainer, win-win sites are used up... in 200 years. (BTW the deserts often bloom with life in the shade underneath passive solar arrays.)

Much of the problem with toxic waste is isolating, extracting and separating it. Used batteries are easily extracted and isolated and sent to special dumps where our heirs will nano-recover them.

Funny how no mention is made of carbon.

I am a moderate on fracking. The geopolitical and economic benefits are huge, in the short term. But vastly more regulation is needed to enforce no-venting of methane, no flaring, no leaks and keeping this practice FAR from important aquifers.

David Brin said...

DD: "P.S. "Offshore" is also a habitat that is ruined by extensive wind farm construction."

Prove it. The piers offer natural habitats and shelters. In Earth I portray them ALSO stirring bottom mud to feed plankton/

Unknown said...

On the topic of the xinchub impact causing a global firestorm, there was an episode of Radio Lab that spells out a fairly convincing scenario in which the impact vaporizes a mountain of material into plasma, which gets blown into orbit (visualize the after effects of a drop of water landing in a pool). The superheated plasma then rains down from orbit over the next day or so, releasing most of its heat into the atmosphere and raising the temperature by several hundred degrees for a while.

locumranch said...

Reductio ad absurbum.

The conflicts upon which David expends his energies amount to little more than tribalism wherein a collection of clades, castes, deniers and cultists profess reflexive loyalty for their own worldview, thoughtlessly reject the worldviews of others and deny the partisan irrationality inherent in such tribalism.

It is this type of tribal catechism (defined as 'a manual giving basic instruction in a subject, usually by rote or repetition, to be accepted uncritically') that allows some to brag about 10-day weather forecasts, equivocate scientific practice with a scientific hierarchy, confuse intellectual superiority for cultural dominance and sing praises to infallible Smithian economies, all while denying the horrifyingly cataclysmic environmental costs of such tribal partialities.

The Catechism states (that) “methodical research in all branches of knowledge (can NEVER conflict with faith) provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and DOES NOT OVERRIDE MORAL LAWS", and it is this last part -- the part about faith & morality TRUMPING all aspects of scientific inquiry -- is enough to terrify. repel and repulse any true advocate of science.

Yet, we see this type of 'catechismic' moral abomination on a daily basis, especially in the fields of TWODA and climate change, where scientific inquiry is either forced to serve the tribal faith-based perogative or is rejected outright.

Those poor Assyrians: Either they were wiped out by climate change 3000 years before the advent of climate change, or they were poisoned by a single bad oyster, or maybe they are just fine and living in Surrey, so tell us again how the climate almost never ever changes.


Alfred Differ said...

In honor of Thanksgiving, I avoided wearing my Santa hat until today. I'm not a fan of how we have commercialized Christmas, but as a set of expressions of caring for one another, I'm supportive of its expansion. Since Thanksgiving shares these traits, I think it best that the turkeys conditionally surrender and demand to be part of the winning side in exchange.

Jumper said...

To simplify locumranch's logic, "grandpa died so what's the point of living?"

Alex Tolley said...

Fracking fluid chemicals

1. Acids—hydrochloric acid or acetic acid is used in the pre-fracturing stage for cleaning the perforations and initiating fissure in the near-wellbore rock.[52]
2. Sodium chloride (salt)—delays breakdown of gel polymer chains.[52]
3. Polyacrylamide and other friction reducers decrease turbulence in fluid flow and pipe friction, thus allowing the pumps to pump at a higher rate without having greater pressure on the surface.[52]
4. Ethylene glycol—prevents formation of scale deposits in the pipe.[52]
5. Borate salts—used for maintaining fluid viscosity during the temperature increase.[52]
6. Sodium and potassium carbonates—used for maintaining effectiveness of crosslinkers.[52]
7. Glutaraldehyde—used as disinfectant of the water (bacteria elimination).[52]
8. Guar gum and other water-soluble gelling agents—increases viscosity of the fracturing fluid to deliver proppant into the formation more efficiently.[49][52]
9. Citric acid—used for corrosion prevention.
10. Isopropanol—increases the viscosity of the fracture fluid.[52]

Clearly several of these are not "safe" by any stretch of the imagination.

Here is a report of exactly the opposite opinion:
Fracking Fluids More Toxic Than Previously Thought

And just because anti-freeze can be found in the garage, doesn't mean that you want it entering the water supply.

Jumper said...

There were no "Assyrians." To say so is pure catechism; "received wisdom" true geniuses scorn.

Alex Tolley said...

Either they were wiped out by climate change 3000 years before the advent of climate change, or they were poisoned by a single bad oyster, or maybe they are just fine and living in Surrey, so tell us again how the climate almost never ever changes.

So are the historic long droughts experienced, e.g. in California, climate change or weather change? Because clearly the overall temperature globally didn't change very much over this period, but it had a large impact on the peoples living here. There is a lot of difference between local climate change and global climate change, the latter which is of concern today.

David Brin said...

Jumper said "To simplify locumranch's logic, "grandpa died so what's the point of living?""

My own paraphrasing: "I get to live in greater freedom and knowledge and fun that all of my ancestors, combined. So naturally I will interpret all the things that got me these things as worthless and the results contemptible... though I am one of those results. And ain't it fun to be a grumpy adolescent forever?"

David Brin said...

Mr. Weppe, I avow that the standard hypothesis is probably correct, that Putin & co are standard Russian boyar potentate feudal lords. That, too, is Marx-consistent. My imagined “what-if” hypothesis is “what if it is deliberate and they are sincere?” The accumulations of capital under the 120 oligarchs is - effectively - a re-collectivization of scattered enterprises. One piece of paper would turn them back into state companies/directorates. But yes, it seems more likely they are NOT sincere, but recreating Marx’s penultimate scenario our of standard human stupidity, instead.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

I'm afraid I must have missed something. Where's the reductio ad absurdum? The fallacy I see most clearly is the mother of all fallacies, far more common and intractable than ad absurdum - confirmation bias. It is far more intractable because it feels the most natural. We look for evidence that supports our beliefs and ignore or explain away evidence that rejects our beliefs. It is sloppy reasoning, but when you consider that our brains run off of less electricity than the light bulb in your refrigerator, it is easy to understand why people naturally take mental shortcuts like this.

Before anyone assumes I am pointing fingers, let me be clear that this is something we all do. Scientists are supposed to be trained to watch out for this, in both themselves and in the broader community of scientists, but they don't always get it. It is so much easier to sink back into the sofa of ignorant bliss, pop open a cold beer and watch the game, letting your peers and/or your emotions tell you what to think. But it is not too hard to ask yourself this question about anything you believe: do I think it's true because I want it to be true? It's the followup questions that become the real drain.

So thank you, Mr. Duffy, for the link to the Energy Information Administration. That shows real data on CO2 emissions per btu. Most of your conclusions are flawed, but the idea of replacing coal with natural gas is an improvement, though still only a temporary solution that cannot be allowed to distract us from the real work of finding sustainable energy solutions. You still haven't answered the cui bono...

To reiterate: something is not true just because you want it to be, and an international community composed of hundreds of millions of highly educated, well trained workers and thinkers who come from a variety of different traditions, religions, ethnicities etc hardly make a conspiracy. The size of the group is enough to negate that little "theory" - to say nothing of the natural tendency for scientists to disagree with each other. The fact that such a huge majority of the exact scientists whose work is impacted by climate agree about its change is not miraculous, but it is remarkable.

As an archaeologist I dealt with climatological data on a regular basis. I dug sites where the soil was rich and fertile beneath layers of human habitation, but turned dry, poor and sandy almost as soon as human inhabitants arrived on the scene. Pollen samples showed consistent patterns of shift from forest to brought-tolerant, desert vegetation. In the 12th Century the Anasazi were forced to abandon their famous cliff dwellings by drought. At that same time the populations of the Hohokam and Mogollon dwindled and the Great Plains were virtually abandoned, the survivors taking refuge in deep mountain valleys where orographic precipitation continued to provide enough water for small bands to survive. I could go on for pages here.

Needless to say, climate change is not a hoax because lociranch, or Rush Limbaugh, doesn't like it.

Tony Fisk said...

Since you are replacing a v. potent greenhouse gas with one that's only slightly potent, so burning methane is fine if it's going to be generated anyway (via rubbish decomposition, or clathrate evaporation)

Ah, nuclear! Much vaunted saviour of the age. It certainly has the potential to be. What makes me hesitate in supporting it more is the disdain... nay, outright hostility, its supporters have for renewables. That, and the lack of any action other than the paper fantasies of Gen IV fans. It suggests an ulterior motive to me.

But that's just my paranoid conspiracy fan side talking. Let nuclear take its place on the starting blocks alongside solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, quantum vacuum...
Let the market decide, if it hasn't already.

Paul451 said...

An amusing "looking back" answer to the vicious online harassment of female game journalists: Use the same social media to tell their mothers.

Paul451 said...

Speaking of online attacks, here I pile on with those attacking Daniel...

Daniel Duffy,

For the record, I'm a fan of direct gas-turbine power plants. They are a great adjunct to alternative power because they can be cycled up and down quicker than coal and especially nuclear power. Additionally, their construction costs are generally lower than coal/nuclear; they can be efficient at small scales, and as you note they burn cleaner, so you can build smaller plants closer to the customers. (Plus anything that reduces coal use is a bonus.)

But the fact is that battery technology is halving in price and doubling in energy-density every decade. And solar panels are halving in price per kW every decade (although that accelerated recently). Not only have those exponential improvement continued fairly steadily for many decades, but they both have full R&D chains suggesting that they won't hit a development wall for at least another 20 years. (Ie, there's new development at every point from single molecules in labs, to experimental cells, to early prototypes, to pre-production testing, to niche-market ramp up, to ongoing improvements in current production...)

So at some point these technologies will cross any arbitrary price line you draw. And long before that, they'll be more affordable than new infrastructure (ie, cheaper to throw up a new solar farm in two years with a five year pay-back, than to bother with a nuclear power station with ten year development time and a twenty year pay-back, even if the theoretical per-MWHr price for the nuke is lower.)

Meanwhile, most traditional power technologies are at the other end of their tech curves. They are mature technologies, they've plucked all the low-hanging fruit, they've got their efficiencies of scale. New materials and production will shave off a point here and there, but in general there's nowhere left to go. Solar/battery will win. It's just maths.

Already, for domestic users, solar panel costs are reaching the point where they are a minor part of the installed costs, so effort is now turning to reducing the installation and other non-panel costs. For example, we're seeing power-conditioners, converters and associated electronics being built into the panels, making the panels 110/220VAC plug'n'play. Installation costs have halved in about 5 years, and, again, there's a bunch of new technologies in the R&D pipeline.

[Turing: "Shorstal believes", and who am I to argue with Shorstel?]

Paul451 said...

Re: Off-shore wind-farms.

The costs are apparently hideous compared to onshore wind-farms, even with the stronger, more reliable winds.

Daniel again,
Re. Fracking.
"All the action takes place miles below ground water bearing strata and separated by layers of impermeable bedrock."

In theory. Practice often says otherwise. When you are trying to change the permeability of the target stratum (the whole friggin' point of frackin'), it's pretty easy to affect the overlying layers. Impermeable rock has a bad habit of being less so once you start drilling holes through it and pumping out fluid from underneath.

[Turing: "Suits tnuaryt", and if it suits Tnuaryt, that's good enough for me.]

Paul451 said...

[last one, promise]

Re: Solar roads.

While the idea doesn't work yet, with the continuing decrease in panel and electronics prices, and improvements in materials and construction...

... okay, yeah, it'll never work for hundreds of miles of blacktop, like US Interstates (at least not without some kind of SF nanobot replicator thing.)

But it may become affordable for special uses. It will always be more expensive than bitumen and concrete, but it's the other things it saves on that may make a difference. Remember the point isn't just the solar panels, it's the combined battery storage and LED display in a single plug'n'play package. The solar panels aren't meant to power the grid, but to power the road-display and other distributed systems. As hardware prices drop, it should become affordable for walking/bike paths (eliminating costs of installing dedicated lighting), and then with brick-paved roads. Then general footpaths. Then CBD side-roads. Then perhaps intersections (path highlighting replacing overhead signals). Being able to re-mark parking spaces alongside roads to match time-of-day parking rules. Being able to widen or narrow lanes to expand or reduce parking/turning-lanes/etc. Being able to actively divert lanes around sensed or reported obstacles. Highlighting pedestrians, bikes, vehicles approaching from blind corners, etc, with subtle lighting changes.

Eventually it might drop enough that it's cost effective to use strips in place of lane-markings even on major roads. (Some Nordic countries are installing electro-luminescent lane marking on major highways.)

And a modular solar-pane/battery/LED-light in a single robust package is a hell of a handy thing for camping, disaster recovery, third world villages, etc.

[Aside: The price of solar-plus-inverters-plus-batteries is currently at the level that solar panels alone were about five years ago. I'm expecting to see battery packs built into plug'n'play rooftop panels, and for companies like Solar City to add battery packs to their customer systems. There's a synergy with Tesla and Musk's battery "Superfactories". When Tesla owners trade in their battery packs for upgrades, swap out any failed cells then shift the packs to stationary power storage, like Solar City customers. Five years on, upgrade those packs and bring the cells back to be fully recycled into new battery packs for new Teslas.]

[Turing: "Irelical George", and if it's, errr... I got nothing. Sorry George.]

Jerry Emanuelson said...

A very alarming new trend in the United States during the past two years is solar installations with no off-grid capability. These systems do not work at all when the power grid is down. Some of these installations don't even have battery storage.

Some installers have even tried to sell these systems to homeowners who want a solar power system primarily for its off-grid capabilities.

Nearly all Community Solar Projects (also known as Solar Gardens) also have this flaw.

A separate switch is needed to prevent back-flow into the power grid, which could endanger utilities workers. This switch can be automatic or manual, but neither type of switch is a large part of the cost of a solar power system. These switches should be standard with all solar power systems.

Without off-grid capabilities, there will be a MASSIVE loss of solar power generation whenever the power grid goes down. In any long-term and large-scale power outage, this will also mean a massive loss of reputation for the solar power industry. The solar industry really needs to get their act together on this one. Otherwise, it could set solar power back many years, and many people will be hauling their solar panels off to the landfill.

Even Community Solar Projects should have an associated building where power is available during a grid outage. That way, people in the neighborhood could come to the community solar building to cook food in microwave ovens, re-charge electronics, get news about the power outage, etc.

Alex Tolley said...

@Jerry - I agree in principle with your argument for offline solar power. However, consider for a moment a very low cost on-line only system that reduces your power bill. The logic for such a system, especially with no upfront capital cost (Solar City lease) is clear. Yes you lose power when the grid goes down, but overall you do have lower cost power. As Paul451 notes, battery storage technology is also experiencing cost declines and that is becoming the focus for solar power installations. I expect to see battery backup systems (even if it the household electric car) becoming more popular with time. While further behind in technology, fuel cells working of natural gas are also appearing. At some point these will provide off-line (or even "on-line") power from the piped gas supply (or delivered gas).

@Paul451. Smart solar/LED roads would make the difficult problems for driverless cars almost trivial. They are perfect for the small scale, complex navigation in city centers and private zones. Cost is the main factor. At this point I'm not clear whether these systems will compete with other retrofit technologies for all the uses you cite. For example, smart LED strips powered by the grid (or separate solar panels on posts) might be a lot cheaper than complete solar/LED road panel and achieve most of the goals needed. I could see them being used instead of traffic cones too, although smart transponder cones would work for redirected traffic too.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Alex, I think Jerry's point may have been that the switch to disconnect anyone's personal system from the grid is an inexpensive component, so it may just be a matter of getting the word out so more customers can pressure these businesses to include them. Most people I talk to just assume that there will be power during an outage. You would think that these companies would want to offer this as a selling point, but they make their money from the electricity their customers supply to the grid. They probably don't want their customers to have the option.

What worries me in this scenario is, what happens in an earthquake? The power grid will be down, likely for days or weeks, which causes huge food shortage problems. Not only do perishable food items go bad, but the stores where people normally buy food can't sell it when their electronic cash registers go down, and employees are unlikely to show up. Then there's the problem of medications that require refrigeration, like antibiotics. This may be just the kind of situation to write to your state government about (as some places are much more earthquake prone than others, so a federal response may not be necessary), if businesses are unwilling to provide these switches.

Paul 451, though I will be back to work soon and won't have time, your long, well-thought posts are appreciated, in a world of epidemic sound-bite engineering, corporation shilling & campaign-slogan slinging.

Alex Tolley said...

Wind - onshore vs offshore costs

Offshore wind is about 2x the levelized costs of onshore wind power. Not good, but not "hideous". The advantage is that you are making use of a resource (offshore coastline) that doesn't have competing uses. The turbines can be scaled up for improved performance and there are no annoying side effects like noise and visual flickering for nearby residents. There is also scope for offshore wind structures to allow piggy backed infrastructure like fish farming pens.

Nuclear: Let the market decide, if it hasn't already.
In the US, nuclear needs government supplied insurance to be viable. I personally think that large nuclear power plants are pretty much dead in the the US for regulatory reasons, although there may be a future for the community size "mini-nukes". But as Paul451 says, solar + battery will eventually outcompete any power technology on price. Couple this with smart grids and I think that the naysayers ("solar doesn't work at night") will be proven wrong. Obviously one should use the most appropriate power technology for the climate and weather. Solar is great in the sunny states, especially the SW USA, although it also works in Germany with subsidies (so is expensive). Wind makes more sense in northern US states, and especially the great plains. Iceland makes use of geothermal energy.

What I don't see is how we are going to effectively strand fossil fuel reserves. It is easy conceptually to make laws to do this, but fossil fuel companies are going to fight literally to the death to prevent this. Is there a way to sideline them so that renewables don't face this uphill battle, or will economics be sufficient to pave the way?

Tony Fisk said...

For all the talk about the fickleness of renewables, rooftop solar received a filup in Victoria last summer, when a fire in an open cut coal mine shut down a significant power station. We didn't endure blackouts because... distributed rooftop solar. Is that meant to happen?

Got three minutes? Go check 'Wanderers', a short film by Eric Wernquist that uses a reading by Carl Sagan as a backdrop to visuals of humans exploring the Solar System. It is phenomenal!

Alex Tolley said...

@Tony - thanks for the Wanderer link. Beautiful.

@Jerry, Paul Shen-Brown

From the California Solar Initiative site FAQ:
When I get my California Solar Initiative-funded solar system installed, will I be "off-grid?"

No. The California Solar Initiative Program only provides incentives to grid-connected solar systems, thus California Solar Initiative participants are not off-grid; rather, their systems produce energy that flows back onto the grid, which they conversely draw from whenever their systems are not generating energy. Grid-tied solar electric systems are not typically designed to provide back-up power when there is an electrical outage.

I wonder if the off-switch is dropped to ensure compliance?

This commercial solar site provides a quick overview of the issue Jerry is talking about. May be a bit more complicated than a simple switch being needed. The correct inverters and possibly a backup power source may be needed. Ironic if you need a generator for outages wven with a solar roof.

David Brin said...

Jerry E. I raised the issue of solar not being off-grid personally with none other than Elon himself. It now costs 4 figures to battery up your home to use your own rooftop cells to be independent if power cuts off.

At-minimum, during an outage your cells should still power one special outlet in your kitchen, allowing you to run your fridge and some rechargers during the day. Failure to do that much is unforgivable neglect of resilience.




locumranch said...

As we are in the midst of a topic change, I will be brief:

I cannot abide by the shameless self-promotion, the hyperbole, the ridiculous long-range projections & the boy-who-cried-wolf mentality of the climate change cultists even though I support the science of climate change and, as as a recent article in 'The Daily Beast' attests, I am not alone as 51% of US citizens (and at least 77% of evangelicals) now equate climate change with the biblical revelation 'End of Times' and, frankly speaking, the rambling of those scientific patriots who believe in the infallibility of our wasteful & environmentally destructive Smithian Economic culture (one that has allowed the human population to quadruple, exhausted the global fishery, dumped trillions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere & burned through 1000 years of resources in a 60 year period) only exacerbates the problem.


Marino said...

Mr. Brin , I'm a long time lurker and sometimes poster here, so I'd join Mr. Weppe on the subjecy of Putin's liaisons with far-right parties in Europe. Here in Italy the Northern league, the party once advocating secession of the Northern Italy, now is turning into a clone of the French Front National, and yhey're going to get funds from Putin and acknowledge Putin's Uinter Russia party as a brother party (as in : birds of one feather flock together). They share the same core values: ethnic nationalism, xenophobia, hate for "decadent" Western memes like gay rights.
Now, being myself from Italian Communist background, and having a somewhat decent grasp of history of Communism and Marxism, ... well, if Putin is a Marxist in disguise I'm the queen of Siam. "Soviet Marxism" was an intellectually dead thing, something Putin & Co. probably memorized by rote at political education classes without ever bothering to try to understand it. If any, Russia could be similar to the Ante-Bellum South: internally oppressive society bolstered by export of a vital commodity to the world market, be it cotton or oil/gas.