Monday, April 30, 2007

Inconvenient Truths 1 and 2: global warming and oil supply


On Sunday April 29, Andrew C. Revkin had an article “Carbon-Neutral is Hip, But Is It Green: An environmental movement that’s just about perfect for consumers” in The New York Times, This Week In Review, Section 4, p. 1. He discusses “carbon neutral campaigns.” There is an increasing angst over whether individual people will eventually have to face their own share of the sacrifice. Whole life style patterns can change, ranging from challenges to exurbia and McMansions for upscale families to the personal autonomy of single people (often gays and women).

Some of this possibility exists in measures of personal "carbon footprint". A UK website that discusses this is named after that. A 45 ton per year carbon footprint would be offset by a $675 "investment," according to NBC Nightly News on April 30. Conceivably, this concept raises the idea that eventually personal or family "carbon footprints" could be rationed, setting up enormous political and social controversies.

That’s “An Inconvenient Truth 1”. There is “An Inconvenient Truth 2” about the future of our oil supplies. The link between The Two Truths is, of course, consumption of fossil fuels (so graphic when one looks at a coal strip mine). A couple of recent films accentuate this. One is the 3-1/2 hour “Epic of Black Gold” from French National Television and Alliance-Atlantis, directed by Jean-Pierre Beauerenaut and Yves Billon, shown twice in the recent Washington DC Filmfestdc. The other is a brutal little film from Netflix, “A Crude Awakening,” directed by Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack, with the add-on of frank interviews of oil executives Colin Campbell, Matthew Simmons, Fadhil Chalaki, and David L. Goodstein. The film makes the point that the bell curves representing oil discovery, oil production and oil consumption all have the same integral curve areas, because they represent the same amount of oil, even though the spikes of these curves can be spaced decades apart. The film has a gloomy outlook on what could replace oil to sustain our civilization at its current population and standard of living, given the demands of China (which have exploded in the past decade – look at the cars in Beijing) and third world countries to share our consumption.

I’ve seen this before. I “came out” in the 1970s during the first Oil Crisis (the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973), and even wondered if it would be possible to bike from New Jersey to The City for my adventures.

This is all sobering. But, as with other problems (like global pandemics) we are left wondering about our research and development and investment. Can we think and produce our way out of these long term problems? The next generation of kids now in high school will inherit these issues to solve. They’d better learn their math and science well.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

New earth-sized planet around red dwarf may host life


Media outlets (Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press) report this morning the discovery of a planet, with about 1.5 times the surface gravity of Earth, around a red dwarf about 20 light years from Earth. It is likely that it would present the same side toward its "sun" which would look larger and redder than ours.

National Geographic had a film "Extraterrestrials" (review) in 2005, in which it proposed how life would subsist on such a planet (which was smaller in the NG series). The sunlit side would have an ocean and a permanent hurricane or "gray spot" in the middle of the sunlit side. Life would be aqueous and have many bizarre, extreme properties. The special also discussed life on a planet larger than earth, where more creatures would be airborn. The distinction between plants and animals (and other kingdoms) would exist, but photosynthesis could be based on other chemicals and not necessarily make "plants" green.

Mathematics suggests that life is likely to evolve anywhere conditions are favorable, given enough time. Consider the way the "buds" of the Mandelbrot Set "reproduce" themselves ("asexually") in complex variable theory.

In the early 1990s there was a television series called "Earth 2" (with Antonio Sabato) about a twin of Earth in another solar system.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

UN Security Council on global warming; ethanol fuels


The United Nations Security Council is holding debates on global warming, and developing countries are very nervous that advanced countries will use the issue to hold them back. Link.

At the same time, there are media reports that a switch of automobiles to ethanol – a feat largely accomplished in Brazil, where sugar cane plantations provide a large percentage of the nation’s fuel – will not reduce Venusian greenhouse gasses emission and might increase them. Ethanol fuels would reduce dependency on oil from the Middle East and reduce mining of fossil fuels in general, since they are renewable. Some engineers say they are hard on engines, causing gasket leaks but these are problems that could fixed with design. In the long run, hydrogen fuels and hybrids may sound more climate friendly but much more costly to set up an infrastructure for. BP is already advertising its use of ethanol fuels. Link:

CNN also reports that New York City produces 1% of the nation’s greenhouse gasses. Link.

Picture: Gormania, W Va.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Pentagon increases tours as Selective Service plans dress rehearsal


During the second week of April 2007 the Pentagon announced in major media outlets that most tours to Iraq would now last fifteen months. Apparently this will include repeat tours.

During the Vietnam war, tours were twelve months to the day for draftees, and no draftee was ever forced to repeat, even as troop buildups under General Westmoreland increased.

The social backlash against the "backdoor draft" to support the war in Iraq continues.

Selective Service has announced that it will do a "dress rehearsal" of its machinery in 2009. I corresponded with the Selective Service System extensively myself in 1996 when I was doing research for my first book. I was "drafted" and served in the Army from 1968-1970 but did not go to Vietnam.

VA Tech Tragedy

Today, Wolf Blitzer on CNN interviewed a graduate student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, VA, and the irony was that this particular student, uninjured in the incident, was from Palestine and has witnessed much of the West Bank violence.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

China experiences increase in divorce in conjunction with individualism, planned birth policy


Maureen Fan has an interesting story about social values in China in today’s (April 7) Washington Post, “Chinese Slough Off Old Barriers to Divorce: Breakups Skyrocket Alongside an Increase in Individualism”, at this link:

The story indicates that new generations of Chinese place less importance on family name and reputation than did previous generations, partly because of increased economic independence from communism, and partly because of urbanization.

The story should be studied in view of China’s “one child per family” policy (or “Planned Birth” policy or “jihua shengyu”), which fines parents in urban areas for having more than one child, is unevenly enforced, and is widely criticized as immoral, causing female abortions, leading to discrimination against ethnic groups, and leading to “spoiled children” with the “little emperor” problem among the Gen Y of Chinese, although the last claim seems speculative and little validated by studies. Still, China, with its communist structure, finds itself struggling with individualism, demanding Internet censorship, and wondering how it will handle future pressures from the rest of the world over consumption issues like global warming (which a controlled population should help address). The “planned birth” policy certainly can lead to a spirited discussion if it is compared to debates in the United States and Europe about family values, marriage, and replacement fertility rates.

China has also experienced a public controversy with the common western problem of eminent domain, in the case of homeowner Ms. Wu Ping, whose home was steadfast until now in Chongqing. A typical report (with spectacular photo) is the story by Priya Prakash Royal in "New Jersey Eminent Domain Law" at this link.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Supreme Court weighs in on global warming


On Monday April 2, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must start implementing regulations on automakers and other industries to cut global emissions. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority. Story here. Eventually, clean air regulations could pressure less affluent consumers to purchase new fuel efficient cars, even though doing so now is being seen as an act of good citizenship.

The Court also ruled against Duke Power Company, insisting that it must start using pollution control equipment on aging equipment. Story here.

Since the United States uses energy out of proportion to its population, action on energy conservation and greenhouse gas emission will be politically important as it deals with growing countries (especially China) determined to raise living standards, a problem that could eventually become as threatening as dependence on Middle East oil is now.

Update: 4/5/2007

Juliet Eilperin has a story in The Washington Post this morning, "Climate Panel Confident Warming Is Underway: Report to Detail the Role of Humans," here.
The report distinguishes between items of "high confidence" (80% certainty) and "very high confidence" (90% certainty). The terminology reminds me of the "highly confident " letters that used to justify hostile takeovers in the corporate world!

On April 6, a CNN story appears warning that a new dust bowl could develop in the United States, with severe water supply problems in the Southwest, story here. A related story is that Lake Superior is warming rapidly, here.
More media stories claim that the new reports warn of catastrophic changes for the planet. A most inconvenient truth.

Update: 4/16

On April 16, Seth Borenstein of the AP wrote a report "Global Warming a Security Risk: Retired Military Leaders Issue Report" warming that conflicts will arise over the sacrifices caused by changing climate and dwindling resources.

Picture: low lying area in Federalsburg, MD, on the Delmarva between Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, flooded in torrential rains last June 2006, a typical area that can be affected by global warming, 80 miles from Washington DC.