Cladonia coniocraea is a lichen. Polytrichum juniperinum is an acrocarp moss. In any case they are beautiful.
Full size is available by right-clicking the image and electing “open image in new tab.” Try it. It’s worth it.
Cladonia coniocraea is a lichen. Polytrichum juniperinum is an acrocarp moss. In any case they are beautiful.
Full size is available by right-clicking the image and electing “open image in new tab.” Try it. It’s worth it.
The claim that in our present place of climate disruption we have the luxury of choosing how we eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases and especially that we can do it without phasing out fossil fuels is simply ignorance, both scientific ignorance and engineering ignorance.
As I recently wrote in part in testimony in support of a utility scale PV array near a Massachusetts suburb:
I ﬁnd objections raised by the Project opponents regarding forest preservation and natural experiences contravene what is known about forest ecosystems [22, 23]. No forest or natural system is static and notions like “balance of nature” or “forest succession” are really 19th and early 20th century ideas. We now know better about [23, 13, 26, 21]. Many scientiﬁc ideas are counter-intuitive and some are unpopular. For example, maintaining a healthy forest means doing so-called “controlled burns.” Suburbanites dislike the idea of a nearby ﬁre threatening their properties [25, 18]. People don’t like wetland restrictions and they don’t like mosquitos from wetlands, yet undisturbed, unsprayed wetlands are far better Carbon sinks than forests .
The references cited are given below:
 R. M. May. “Biological populations with nonoverlapping generations: stable points, stable cycles, and chaos”. In: Science 186 (1974), pp. 645–647.
 A. M. Nahlik and M. S. Fennessy. “Carbon storage in US wetlands”. In:
Nature Communications 7 (2016), pp. 1–9.
 R. L. Ryan and M. B. Wamsley. “Perceptions of wildﬁre threat and mitigation measures by residents of ﬁre-prone communities in the Northeast: Survey results and wildland ﬁre management implications.” In: The public and wildland ﬁre management: social science ﬁndings for managers. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station, 2006, pp. 11–17. URL: https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/18648.
 A. Szasz. How we changed from protecting the environment to protecting ourselves.
University of Minnesota Press, 2007. URL: https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-
 S. Tatsumi et al. “Prolonged impacts of past agriculture and ungulate overabundance on soil fungal communities in restored forests”. In: Environmental DNA (2021). URL:
 R. H. Whittaker. “Recent evolution of ecological concepts in relation to the eastern forests of North America”. In: American Journal of Botany 44 (1957), pp. 197–206.
 G. J. Winter, C. Vogt, and J. S. Fried. “Fuel treatments at the wildland-urban interface: Common concerns in diverse regions.” In: Journal of Forestry 100.1 (2002), pp. 15–21. URL: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/edn3.198.
 L. S.-Y. Wu and D. B. Botkin. “Of elephants and men: A discrete, stochastic model for
long-lived species with complex life histories”. In: The American Naturalist 116 (1980),
Afforestation won’t cut it:
Van Groenigen, Kees Jan, Xuan Qi, Craig W. Osenberg, Yiqi Luo, and Bruce A. Hungate. “Faster decomposition under increased atmospheric CO2 limits soil carbon storage.” Science 344, no. 6183 (2014): 508-509.
Boysen, Lena R., Wolfgang Lucht, Dieter Gerten, Vera Heck, Timothy M. Lenton, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. “The limits to global‐warming mitigation by terrestrial carbon removal.” Earth’s Future 5, no. 5 (2017): 463-474.
Seddon, Nathalie, Alexandre Chausson, Pam Berry, Cécile AJ Girardin, Alison Smith, and Beth Turner. “Understanding the value and limits of nature-based solutions to climate change and other global challenges.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 375, no. 1794 (2020): 20190120.
Nave, Lucas E., Grant M. Domke, Kathryn L. Hofmeister, Umakant Mishra, Charles H. Perry, Brian F. Walters, and Christopher W. Swanston. “Reforestation can sequester two petagrams of carbon in US topsoils in a century.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, no. 11 (2018): 2776-2781.
Above figures and data are from:
Friedlingstein, Pierre, Michael O’sullivan, Matthew W. Jones, Robbie M. Andrew, Judith Hauck, Are Olsen, Glen P. Peters et al. “Global carbon budget 2020.” Earth System Science Data 12, no. 4 (2020): 3269-3340.
I have a new litmus test for my environmental contributions: Any opposition to solar PV projects means no contribution from me. Doesn’t matter if it is APCC, NRDC, Sierra Club, CLF, ELM, UU Ministry for Earth, 350.org or any of its state chapters, or Woodrell Research Center.
Heizer was no less active in 1969, when he created Double Negative, a 1,100-by-42-by-30-foot work located at Virgin River Mesa, Nevada, where he and his crew gouged and carved 240,000 tons of rock out of facing cliffs to form two mammoth vertical trenches. The site is so huge that it can only be seen in its entirety by helicopter or plane. Again, its meaning and raison d’être is its own existence—nothing more and nothing less.Art News, 26th June 2015.
My son, Jeff, is Professor of Mathematics, University College London.
It’s a Big Deal. To quote the description of it from the University of Cambridge:
The Adams Prize is one of the University’s oldest and most prestigious prizes. The Prize is named after the mathematician John Couch Adams and was endowed by members of St John’s College. It commemorates Adams’s role in the discovery of the planet Neptune, through calculation of the discrepancies in the orbit of Uranus. Previous prize-winners include James Clerk Maxwell, Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking.
And yet, in my experience as an engineer in corporate America, for many people it is. For many people, they are willing to bend, gloss, distort, confuse, obfuscate, and lie if their income and position in a company depends upon it.
So it shouldn’t be surprising if, for a set of motivated hooligans with grudges, justified or not, all that matters is their purpose and cause and their so-called brotherhood.
And, yes, it’s all the fault of One Guy.
The New York Times Magazine has a good article on the difficulty of imposing what most economists see as the best way to fix emissions and climate disruption: Putting a price on them. They go back and forth between the economic arguments on why this is a win and the political impediments for doing so. The latter range from these being regressive taxes, in effect, to simply forcing change in a culture which has been weaned on cheap fossil fuels and all the related life comforts and technologies which depend upon them.
This has moved governments to subsidize fossil fuels, let alone put a price on them or the emissions which result in using them.
But the entire discussion misses a key point, in my opinion. There is a price on the burning of fossil fuels for whatever purpose. It is imposed by the increasingly common weather anomalies and other atmospheric and oceanic disruptions people experience due to anomalous and changing climate. It is measured in outright losses, insured or not, loss in economic productivity, and loss of confidence in governments doing something about it, or even being able to do something about it.
At the very least, insurance premiums will go up steeply. But there’ll also be increased costs for food, long having been forecast by people looking at the implications of climate disruption, as well as indirect costs because producers now have much more expensive and risky supply chains.
The only question is predictability: Do you all want an economy which builds in a cost of emissions which is scheduled, or do you want to bear costs of emissions which are selective in their impacts, unpredictable in timing, and unfair by socioeconomic status?
It’s not like Carbon pricing is some great act of charity. It is an accounting device.
Either way, people, communities, towns, cities, regions, and countries will suffer when they do not embrace the reality of climate change in the full and its impacts, or when they do not embrace the zero Carbon energy transition.
So, two uplifting videos for today. These are ones I watched some time ago, but I never made a semi-permanent place for them. They are important.
There most certainly is a climate emergency. But it really is not that hard to fix this:
I have a quibble with Professor Moomaw’s talk … Yes, forests and soils — and oceans — take up 60% of CO2 emissions. But these sinks do not bind up these emissions permanently. Permanent sequestration takes a great deal longer. In the case of forests, sequestration is ultimately done in soils. Afforestation and proforestation can help and are necessary, but they are quite slow in their taking up of CO2. Young forests are volatile, meaning most young trees fall over and die, returning their Carbon to the climate system.
Finally, old forests consisting of big trees only are produced if wildfires are allowed to periodically burn through forests, eliminating the small stuff.
Main link. h/t to Peter Sinclair’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week.
Long Term Persistence, eh? Uh, huh.
Somini Sengupta at The New York Times updates her weekend piece “‘No One Is Safe’: Extreme Weather Batters the Wealthy World” with today’s “Climate Change Comes for Rich Countries“.
My favorite quip from the articles:
… [T]wo essential facts of science and history: The world as a whole is neither prepared to slow down climate change, nor live with it.Somini Sengupta
Professor Paul Krugman of The New York Times has what in my opinon is a great economics op-ed in today’s paper, one called “Wonking Out: Two Cheers for Carbon Tariffs.” He explains how Carbon Tariffs and Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanisms (CBAM) are like a VAT and how while this is a tremendous step forward, given the way accounting is now done, it doesn’t directly incentivize countries like China to clean up their act in their domestic economy.
This is, again in my opinion, one of the best pieces Dr Krugman has written. But, of course, I’m seriously interested in climate policy.
The only bit I wonder about is why this kind of mechanism can’t deal with domestic economic emissions. After all, aren’t greenhouse gas emissions an export? Sure, they are not destined to any particular port of receipt. Rather they are destined everywhere. But can’t a CBAM mechanism penalize exporters from a host country which has prodigious emissions by an amount proportional to those emissions?
Moreover, such a mechanism could well be used to reduce packaging and other waste, since these have significant upstream emissions in their production. It would also help — although not solve — working the problem of developing a circular recycling economy. It would also reduce consumption.
Today’s New York Times contains an article “For Some People, Working from Home Sped Up their Decision to Retire“, by Paul Sullivan. I also retired in 2020. But my motivation was quite different.
Unlike many people, I had the option to work from home part of the time for several years. My wife works from home, too, because that’s where her office is. The pandemic, of course, forced her to Zoom from home rather than meet, and she found this is in many cases more time efficient and causes people to focus more. That curtain is just lifting, but I’m not sure she’ll ever completely go back to the travel she did pre-pandemic.
But this is about me, not her. I was a statistician, data scientist, and quantitative engineer for a tech company, a position I had since 2007. It was highly compensated and, judging by the annual bonus record, they liked what I did. It wasn’t really satisfying, for various reasons which are probably too technical to review here, but it was well paid and the work conditions were good.
In mid-January of 2020, pre-pandemic, really, but in a middle of a bout with pneumonia, I was called and told I would be terminated for cost reasons in middle of March 2020. I was encouraged to reach out to other groups I knew at the employer. I was told not to come into work, but my benefits and compensation would continue until middle of March. And there was the option of a kind of separation package for various considerations.
Having been terminated before, I immediately switched into job-hunting mode, without dropping a beat. I took advantage of a placement agency the employer offered as part of the separation benefits. I intended to begin receiving unemployment compensation as soon as the termination was final in mid-March. I used a network.
The thing of it is, at the time I was 68 years old. I had intended to work until 72 or so, and then retire. And, no surprise to anyone who has sought work at that age, there was, let’s say, a great hesistency. The network contacts did not work out.
When the pandemic hit, the options dried up for everyone. Once unemployment began I dutifully looked for work and logged online at the Commonwealth site all the approaches I made and the results. I of course updated my resume during my searches, sometimes drastically, and with input from skilled hiring managers.
Come September and October 2020, I reflected on all this effort. I also did an assessment of my finances, which, due to certain investments, actually had done pretty well. I also nursed a sting from what I felt to be a gross devaluation of my contributions at my employer.
Normally, particularly in tech, when a separation is pending, there is some kind of effort to transition work in progress to others, and to survey and account for documentation of work done so others can access it. For security reasons, the to-be-terminated are denied presence in the workplace and access to workplace networks. But with the presence of Zoom and other media, like Google Hangouts, there surely were ways of communicating with me. There was also my personal email.
No effort was done to do any of this. Effectively, as far as I knew, all I had done which was relevant to the business during the last two years was trashed. I still do not understand what that time was about, or why I was retained as an employee during it.
I concluded the best explanation was simply institutional ageism. So, I needed to make other plans. On 29th November 2020, I declared myself retired. I reconstructed my projects and direction.
In early March of 2020, as I was signing termination documents, I had purged all my personal files of anything having to do with my employer, apart from some financial documents and files directly related to my separation. This purge was necessary, as it made me able to respond to exactly how used I felt. It also meant there was a scorched earth, and that I would never, under any circumstances go back to that business, or for that matter to that industry again.
November 2020 helped me complete that process. I reoriented myself towards new projects I had always wanted to pursue, digital photography, but also statistics, data science, and engineering related to quantitative ecology and other biological problems, particularly ones involving gathering of field data. I have completed that, and I’ve chronicled it on some pages and blog posts here. It is a new world. It is self-funded. And I have complete control over the data I obtain and its quality. The very poor quality of data I had to work with at my former employer and the poor record-keeping of when and how it was collected was my biggest professional complaint with them. I am delighted to be able to discard that.
I’ve seldom looked back. I read about how employers are having a difficult time finding suitably trained and skilled employees. I have recruiters approaching me with job opportunities, despite repeatedly telling them I’m retired and not interested. I have deleted my LinkedIn account. I’m sure many employees don’t want to go back to their employers and industries because they simply were not paid enough for the work. But I also think employers need to take a hard look at how they treat their employees, and not be so basically dishonest and manipulative about their value and contributions. I’ve concluded I was some kind of well compensated show dog, and that, in fact, many of the contributions of the department in which I worked were similar.
It didn’t matter what we did because it wasn’t essential to the business. It was advertising.
The transition to retirement has sometimes been difficult, as transitions to retirement often are. I’m not sure if the pandemic made it harder or easier. It probably made it harder because I could not meet with friends.
I retired because my termination showed that there was no real valuing me by my former employer, and it was probably foolish for me to think that any similar employer would value me either, no matter what they said. I think current and prospective employees of such employers should keep that in mind.
I’m working on several neat things. I want to publish in biological journals. I’ve been told by experts in my field of study that some of my work is definitely worthy of that. And there are causes and projects I’ve always pursued which continue. My wife and I are lucky to be where we are.
But working from home did not make up my mind. My termination and the pandemic did. And I’m onto other, far better things.
(Due to broad interest in this subject and my post, I have extensively expanded it on Monday, 12th July 2021. Also, Canary Media carried a story from #EnergyTwitter about the New York Times article which is worth looking at. I’ve added a bit about that at the end of the post.)
From The New York Times : More Power Lines or Rooftop Solar Panels: The Fight Over Energy’s Future.
Yeah, okay, distributed. It has many advantages. It needs some way of sharing excess energy among neighboring microgrids, and some of the better ways of doing that don’t involve transmission lines and seem to exceed some people’s imaginations. But it could work.
Nevertheless, to match the amount of displaced fossil fuel power required, particularly supporting manufacturing, the rollout of distributed energy on rooftops needs to be massive.
The people who propose the idea really ought to do some calculations on what it will require, both to inform themselves and be more transparent and honest about the prospects for the proposal. I have calculated below what this would take and how little take-up of solar installation there actually is in some municipalities in Massachusetts using the resources of Project Sunroof.
But if this is or ends up being the consensus, one thing states and the country need to do is to create rules and laws that override stupid local solar bylaws, including prohibitions on ground mounted solar, or solar on any structure whatsoever. And they need either to demand, with compensation, that utilities support connection of all these prosumers, or strongly incentivize prosumers co-installing enough battery or other storage that their demand for grid electricity is vastly smaller than it is now. And this needs to consider the inevitable domination of EVs. That second choice — prosumers with storage — is the preferable route. And maybe the answer isn’t microgrids at all. Maybe it’s energy islands.
|Town||Number of Roofs with Solar Potential (*)||Total Annual Generation Potential (GWh AC) / Nameplate Generation (MW DC)||Number of Roofs with Solar Installed (Nov 2018)||Percent of Roofs with Solar Potential Installed (Nov 2018)|
|3,500||82 / 72||94||3|
|6,500||121 / 108||267||4|
|7,600||204 / 181||224||3|
|5,800||110 / 98||142||2|
|16,900||257 / 226||251||1|
|11,000||158 / 141||257||2|
|4,300||45 / 40||72||2|
|17,500||337 / 299||354||2|
|29,600||515 / 460||39||0.1|
|6,300||105 / 95||289||5|
|3,600||53 / 48||138||4|
|3,900||65 / 58||87||2|
|1,300||18 / 16||35||3|
|15,800||230 / 205||428||3|
|21,900||481 / 429||102||0.5|
|45,200||779 / 706||84||0.2|
|11,200||177 / 162||32||2|
|3,900||101 / 93||9||0.2|
|23,100||452 / 393||19||0.08|
|East Providence, RI||13,300||245 / 214||24||0.2|
|4,900||91 / 80||(none known)||0|
|24,500||502 / 356||1,300||5|
|501,000||18,300 / 14,400||455||0.09|
|7,300||171 / 145||381||5|
|St Louis, |
|89,700||2,000 / 1,600||335||0.3|
|19,700||545 / 472||14||0.07|
|54,500||2,600 / 1,900||793||1|
|59,600||2,300 / 1,800||115||0.2|
|430,000||14,800 / 9,300||10,500||2|
|186,000||6,300 / 3,800||1,900||1|
As of 2018, the fraction of potential rooftop solar installed is pathetic. Whatever the long term potential of rooftop solar as a solution for generating electrical energy in lieu of putting solar farms on agricultural lands and felling forests, the ambition exhibited is vastly inadequate.
According to the Massachusetts Decarbonization Roadmap, 23 GW of (just) solar energy is needed from an electrical system balancing perspective by 2050 (page 59). This figure actually came from the Massachusetts Energy Pathways report, although there is no specific citation in the Decarbonization Roadmap as to where it was cited. I couls not find it after a careful search either.
However, Figure 7 of the MEP report allows some estimates. This presents a number of Sankey diagrams showing alternative scenarios for Massachusetts electrical energy in 2050. They are reproduced below.
These all show various energy mixes and, except for the DER Breakthrough, Regional Coordination, and No Thermal scenarios, show demand for solar generation as about 135 trillion BTUs. The exceptions have 113, 121, and 281 trillion BTUs of solar, respectively. Use of the BTU is unfortunate, even if common in utilites planning. A trillion BTUs is 293.071 GWh (giga Watt-hours). I also infer these represent are annual consumption, even if the diagrams does not label them as such. I conclude that by comparing the reference diagram at the top for 2020 with the 2019 table of Massachusetts energy consumption by the U.S. EIA. Accordingly, the annual demands projected for solar are:
|Requirement in |
|135||39,600||All Options (*), |
100% Renewable Primary,
Offshore Wind Constrained,
According to the the MEP report, the DER Breakthrough scenario employs the highest amount of rooftop solar rather than utility scale solar, balancing needs by having a maximal amount of variable end-use loads (hence “DER”). This is of interest, because this minimizes transmission and open space land use, which is the key question of this blog post. What amount of all rooftop solar is needed to supply this scenario, assuming no additional ground mount utility scale solar?
As of 2020, Massachusetts generated 1,565 GWh in a year from utility scale solar, and 256 GWh from small scale (“rooftop”, although it’s not all roofs) PV. These data come from the U.S. EIA Electricity Data Browser. So that leaves an additional 34,000 GWh to be generated. The additional requirements for rooftop installations expressed in terms of multiples of whole towns, assuming all of the eligible rooftops in the towns have solar installed to generate this amount is given below:
|Municipality||Multiples of |
100% of Eligible Roofs
needed to produce
the additional 34,000 GWh
Project Sunroof has not yet mapped all areas of Massachusetts. For example, many of the towns on Cape Cod are not mapped at all. While numbers of roofs go roughly in proportion to population, urban centers have high population densities, and roof area per person goes down, as well as proportion of eligible roof area. I don’t know to the degree to which commercial roof area goes down as urban centers are approached or, offhand, the proportion of roof area which is commercial area, such as big box mall stores. Generally speaking, though, there is a tradeoff between sitability of solar PV and population density, whether on roofs or not.
Accordingly, Springfield, MA is an interesting case. It is reasonably dense and large, having an estimated population in 2019 of 153,606, being the “fourth most populous city in New England after Boston, Worcester, and Providence, and the 12th most populous in the Northeastern United States” (same Wikipedia article). But it also has large open areas. If it is assumed that the solar eligible roof density is typical of that of the Massachusetts average, and that goes in proportion to population, then, as Springfield has a population 1/46 of Massachusetts there should be about 24 GWh of generation from rooftops available from Massachusetts rooftops, assuming all eligible rooftops participated. That’s about as much as the total solar requirement cited by the Decarbonization Roadmap but is less than the amount of solar needed by some of the MEP pathways.
This of course assumes that the other part of zero Carbon energy is coming from offshore wind and Quebec hydropower. To the degree to which some parties may object to transmission lines from offshore wind, offshore wind placement itself, Quebec hydropower expansion, or transmission lines from Quebec hydropower, the requirements are accordingly made much larger. In fact, the requirements are double these because the Massachusetts Decarbonization Roadmap says roughly the same amount of wind is needed as solar.
My conclusion is (a) even if all eligible roofs are equipped with solar, it isn’t enough to either meet our needs or match the requirements of the 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap, and (b) it is unlikely anything like all eligible roofs will be equipped because of local opposition, such as recent complaints about an Episcopal Church in Framingham which wants to put up a solar canopy over a parking lot or ridiculously restrictive bylaws limiting solar on residence properties in Westwood, or a two town protest scheduled for Onset and Wareham claiming:
“Our coalition is holding a statewide rally to protect our lands and waters from large ground-mounted solar generation utilities and battery storage systems,” organizers wrote in a press release. “These are not clean, green or renewable energy but a dangerous false solution to the climate crisis.”wareham.theweekday.com article, 11th July 2021
Of interest in the Massachusetts Commonwealth reports is that “Solar shows less day‐to‐day variability than offshore wind in New England, which is the primary reason for the large overbuild of solar in the No Thermal pathway” (MEP report, page 61). Footnote 43 on page 59 of the Decarbonization Roadmap found that:
The Energy Pathways Report determined that the amount of solar power needed by 2050 exceeds the full technical potential in the Commonwealth for rooftop solar, indicating that substantial deployment of ground-mounted solar is needed under any circumstance in order to achieve Net Zero.
That MEP report also stated (on page 5):
Very high rooftop solar deployment significantly reduced the land‐use required for ground‐mounted renewables, but also increased capital cost. In general, because the resources have similar attributes, the relative share of rooftop and ground‐mounted solar did not have a large impact on decarbonization results.
This is consistent with my assessment above.
National experience shows local opposition to siting of solar does not stop its placement. However it increases the per kWh cost for it by about 20% (MEP report, page 26, Table 5).
That was 2011. And note the opposition to putting PV on roofs, let alone putting panels on already cleared agricultural fields.
Yeah, all well and good, but we’re on a clock. Whether or not the climate system will wait for our nose-in-the-air preferences for how our views look is an open question. If there were an instrument invested in it, I would short it.
Weitzman, Martin L. “Fat-tailed uncertainty in the economics of catastrophic climate change.” Review of Environmental Economics and Policy 5, no. 2 (2011): 275-292.
I had linked what I thought was a YouTube recording of Greta Thunberg addressing the Austrian World Summit in this blog post. Well, apparently either someone substituted a different video for the talk or edited or cracked it so Ms Thunberg is replaced after about a minute and a half with some Austrian leader or businessman rambling on incoherently about something which occasionally has mention of climate.
Accordingly I replicated the address which Ms Thunberg posted on Twitter, put it in safekeeping, and now have replaced the broken YouTube presentation with the proper address.
To that end, in 2019 the U. S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) formed the Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee, and tasked it with producing a report to consider what climate-related risks might be; examine whether adequate information about climate risks is available; identify any impediments to evaluating and managing climate-related financial and market risks; ask whether the market can do a better job of integrating climate-related scenarios and use them to stress-test investments; incorporate disclosures of climate risk into financial and market risk assessments and reporting; identify how risks can be managed and disclosed in order to protect the stability of the financial system; and ensure that information about climate-related financial and market risks are internalized into the market.“[Episode #135] – Internalizing Climate Risk” of The Energy Transition Show
I recently discovered Chris Nelder’s The Energy Transition Show podcast, produced by the XE Network. On 25th November 2020 he hosted Bob Litterman, a founding partner of Kepos Capital, and the Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee. He also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Options Clearing Corporation.
The CFTC recently established a Climate Risk Unit. That was preceded by the release of a report from the Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee titled “Managing Climate Risk in the Financial System” which I recommend.
And of course, that’s the problem today with respect to climate, we’re not prepared for the worst case scenario. We don’t know how bad it might be. And we have to think about extreme but plausible outcomes. And what that means is rather than a slowly rising price, it’s way too late for that. We have to slam on the brakes and be prepared for whatever comes at us. And the brake, of course, is the incentive that we create to reduce emissions. So the longer we wait, the worse the situation is. You can think of the risk as being summarized by what is the highest average temperature change in the future climate. In other words, the temperature today globally averaged relative to historic temperatures is an increase of about 1˚C, and scientists have for a long time talked about 2˚C is really where we start to get into dangerous territory. Well, first of all, we don’t really know. It’s not like there’s a bright line at 2˚C, but in any case, where we are today is about 1˚C of warming. And inevitably, no matter what we do, the warming is going to continue for decades into the future. If we were to what I call slam on the brakes today by creating strong incentives to reduce emissions, we might be able to get to net zero by 2050. That’s what we’re hoping to do. And so until then, we’re increasing the amount of warming in the atmosphere. It takes another decade or two past that net zero to where we come to a new equilibrium. And the amount of heat escaping from the earth at that point becomes balanced with the amount of heat that’s coming into the earth. And so that might be 2070. And right now it looks like in that scenario, the best case, the warming will peak at about 1.7 or 1.8˚C. Now, here’s the really dangerous thing. For every three years that we wait to impose those incentives to reduce emissions, to slam on the brakes, the inevitable maximum temperature increases by about one tenth of a degree C. So if we’re at 1.7˚, inevitable temperature rise today, then in another 10 years we’ll be at about 2˚C and then, you know, if we wait longer than that, it continues to increase at that rate. And so the risk is just increasing very dramatically with every year of delay that we continue today. That’s why the response is inevitable. But the risk is increasing for every year of delay.Bob Litterman
There are many posts here featuring Professor Tony Seba of Stanford University. Professor Seba’s latest update has a definition which permits the rollout of zero Carbon electrical energy in the next ten years to be understood better than his accurate but necessarily vague forecasts from 2010.
After hitting his projections for EVs dead on, and predicting the prices of wind, solar, and battery storage for 2020-2021 correctly, if a little conservatively, it now appears that zero Carbon energy will completely blow away any opposition in its path by 2030, no matter what form that opposition takes, whether it is entrenched energy interests, environmental BANANA opponents, ethical sourcing opponents (“Stop mining Lithium!”), or suburban towns opposing siting.
That’s because architectures of wind+solar+storage electrical energy systems are now becoming clear, even for New England, and these not only can provide 100% electrical energy for all needs, even expanded EV fleets and such, they are currently the cheapest way to generate energy without subsidies, and will, in their eventual realizations, provide not only steady energy for everyday needs, but massive amounts of free intermittent electrical energy for any purpose people want to use it, from generating green Hydrogen, to smelting bauxite into Aluminum. They are the cheapest sources now, and, by 2030, these sources will be about 80% cheaper than now, still, in terms of capital cost to construct. Also, once such a system exists, the marginal return on a 20% additional capital investment is 200%-300%.
There will be no opposing those economics. Even those who have principled stances in opposition, whether they are Carbon worshippers, think all trees everywhere ought to be saved, think sourcing of Lithium for batteries or Iron for turbines and solar farms, or mining bauxite are all evil projects, none of these will succcessfully oppose these rollouts. Organizations and communities which succeed in doing so locally will offer electrical energy ten times more expensive than can be had embracing wind+solar+storage without conditions, and, as a simply business judgment, that will mean their businesses and homes will operate in conditions which are not competitive with those organizations and communities who do embrace.
Moreover, there will be a massive shift of capital to build these systems worldwide. With its certain returns, competing seekers of capital will pay premiums atop what would be expected because their projects haven’t the assured demand and returns wind+solar+storage will. There will also be a renewed if not exponentially amplified interest in big generation, especially solar farms, because the rooftop solar projects are inefficient allocations of capital, for both construction and grid ties.
This is very reassuring. It is sad for all those interests who might want to manage and moderate where these wind+solar+storage systems will be built, but this is in large measure the fault of the adament opponents (the BANANAs) who blocked rather than tried to manage introduction of the energy transformation. I have no sympathy for them.
The economic transformation, here, will be so huge that it no doubt will change the national political discussion in the United States, creating new swaths of towns who feel betrayed and abandoned, especially because their Republican leaders, who previously placated them, will abandon and jump aboard the only economically viable game remaining. So, there will be Luddite attacks against wind+solar+storage installations and, possibly, the grid. These will be common enough that the present measures, assigning these incidents as terrorist attacks with serious convictions, will be reformed.
This could have all been done better, but this is the way it looks like it’s going to go down.
Once again, it looks like advances in technology are going to change everything even if it does not solve everything.
See the article. And then realize it is completely untrue. A lot of progress can be made whether or not Brazil plays along.
This is yet another example of a claim which sounds plausible, but which is quantitatively wrong.
Now, if various people keep putting constraints on solutions, such as:
no, then we will not succeed. The consequence won’t be annihilation, but it will mean adoption of various “albedo hacking” schemes.
People who insist upon this, or people who think the game is over and there is no sense trying are as bad as the Koch brothers in terms of their practical climate denial.
Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.
How do you like them apples, ersatz Republicans? Some emphasis added in the excerpt below.
When misfortunes multiplied during the coronavirus pandemic, observers seized on a four-letter word signaling end of days for the largest state with one-eighth the U.S. population and 14% of its gross domestic product. “California doom: Staggering $54 billion deficit looms,” the Associated Press concluded a year ago in May. “California Is Doomed,” declared Business Insider two months earlier. ”Is California doomed to keep burning?” queried the New Republic in October. California is “Doomed” because of rising sea levels, according to an April EcoNews Report. Bulletins of people leaving the world’s fifth-biggest economy for lower-cost states because of high taxes and too much regulation stifling business continue unabated.
No one anticipated the latest data readout showing the Golden State has no peers among developed economies for expanding GDP, creating jobs, raising household income, manufacturing growth, investment in innovation, producing clean energy and unprecedented wealth through its stocks and bonds. All of which underlines Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement last month of the biggest state tax rebate in American history.
P.S. Looks like Mr Musk abandoned California a wee bit prematurely. Also, Mr Musk, does California look “complacent” now?
And Connecticut Republican Senate Major Leader Kevin Kelly, anytime anyone emits any greenhouse gas, they land a punch in the face of some grandchild alive today. They do that by burning those gallons of gasoline whose price you so want to protect, or generating electricity from natural gas. They do that by directly causing disruptive climate which will harm those kids, and theirs.
“Anytime the government puts its hand in the people’s wallet it’s a tax,” Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly said.https://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/connecticut-shelves-transportation-climate-initiative/2502268/
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said, “this is not about environmental policies, this is about pickpocketing the residents of Connecticut.”https://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/connecticut-shelves-transportation-climate-initiative/2502268/
The last time Carbon Dioxide concentrations on Earth were (just) higher than 400 ppmv (parts per million by volume), there was no Arctic ice cap and boreal forests were growing around the region of the present day Arctic Circle. In order for this to happen mean temperatures on Earth had to be 15 degrees Celsius higher than the preindustrial baseline associated with 288 ppmv.
(Taken from presentation by Dr Alan Haywood, Royal Meteorological Society Meeting, 2019.)
This is the equilibrium condition at just over 400 ppmv. There is no indication our own world will stop at 400 ppmv and could well reach 600 ppmv or even 800 ppmv because of the emissions which Connecticut Republicans Kelly and Candelora apparently love. No one around the world is addressing the problem at the level of ambition required.
If mean global temperature is +15C, conditions at the latitude of Connecticut and Massachusetts must be truly horrific, approaching desert, or at least tropical forest.
The same idea, that “baseload is a shortcut for engineers who can’t think dynamically”, was similar in the early days of robotics. In those days, engineers didn’t want to do a lot of computation, primarily because they did not know how. So the arms of early Puma robots were massive compared to anything they expected to lift. Why? Because the engineers designing the control laws and loops for the robots did not want to have to solve, in real time, the nonlinear sensing of the mass and moments of inertia of the thing they were picking up. If they made the arm so more massive, they could ignore the physical characteristics of the item they were maneuvering.
That kind of thinking no longer works for robots.
That kind of thinking no longer works for rocketry, especially if you want to make boosters that are recoverable and land.
And that kind of thinking no longer works for the energy grid.
Apparently, “strong currents” engineers, to borrow a term from the work of Norbert Wiener, aren’t versed in ideas and methods of control theory. (Specifically, it’s Starkstromtechnik versus Schachstromtechnik.) Now, the strong are subject to the weak, and that’s good. Nietzsche would not approve but, then, what did he really know about anything?
This also provides a comeback in public forums to engineers, policy leaders, or business people who tout “baseload” or equivalently the need for electricity when “the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow.” That is:
Just because you and some engineers cannot think dynamically does not mean there are no engineers who can.
There are other costs of business looming over the heads of fossil fuel intensive companies.
Claire and I are lucky enough to have won “Escape to the Cape” at the annual auction of our congregation, First Parish in Needham, courtesy of Muriel and Tom Gehman. We’ll be Tesla-ing down to Hyannisport this week to indulge. Lovely.
We both need this, but especially Claire.
Few have little idea how hard Claire works. She’s Director of the South Shore Recycling Cooperative, a Beacon Hill-sanctioned consortium of 18 towns, which she coordinates and guides and organizes. And she’s “point” on much needed Producer Responsibility legislation, in Massachusetts, and even across the country. And she’s Moderator at the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. And she’s active working to modify an ill-conceived Westwood bylaw which has been interpreted to restrict as-of-right ground-mounted solar on private property. And she takes fabulous care of her stepmom, Millie, at the Linden in Dedham. And she’s a gardener, and many of you know what that’s like. And she’s a great wife. And she’s a great Mom. And she’s a great GrandMom. So if anyone deserves a holiday, Claire deserves a holiday.
As for me, I’m retired now, and I relish being able to reach out and do technical and other projects because, well, I just want to and are lucky that I don’t need to work. I’ve made networks and friends, across the country, in Michigan and Berkeley, California. I correspond with some every day. The subject is mosses. But that’s not what I want to share here.
A holiday. A holiday when retired? What does that mean? I guess it means a break from the day-to-day rhythm of things, packed into a place, space, and time-let where different rules apply. I have a delightful rhythm in my newly adopted set of occupations, but a holiday gives time to reflect, read, mostly read, study.
So, what are my goals? Well, first, I need to scratch the itch of something which has been bothering me for a couple of years, the question of how will ecosystems and the natural world look after the climate transforms into the one that will come, be new, even if we succeed in arresting deterioration further. Yes, it’s already too late to completely stop that deterioration. The question now is how bad will it get, how fast.
In the writings of Carl Safina and Peter Del Tredici, we see that these changes are already afoot, with many species being on the move. There’s a lot of popular misunderstanding about this. The ecosphere is incredibly resilient, but part of that resilient involves “species rotation” or even “ecosystem rotation”. This means that when the climate or other circumstances change, species and ecosystems don’t go completely away, it’s just that those which were there before get replaced by others which are better adapted to deal with the new circumstances. Many of these circumstances are directly created by people, not primarily due to climate disruption but by things like development for new homes, and commercial districts, and, sure, application of pesticides and other toxins, like those used to control mosquitos. There is always a more resilient species out there, even if it is microbial.
And the notion is that some of the more robust species are ones which we, in our collective desire to resist change and keep things as they always seemed to be, have deemed to be invasive species. Now, I won’t get into the entire history of that concept here, but, paraphrasing Del Tredici, that designation is often merely an excuse for permission to try to eradicate it. That’s odd. Because in other “environmentally sensitive” situations, like the case of the prospective Lithium mines in Nevada, protecting Eriogonum tiehmii is being pursued even if it stops national production of a substance needed to make Lithium ion batteries, important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and important for sourcing in a less impactful way. Much of our Lithium comes from Chile at present. Yet we outright hunt down and kill Alliaria petiolata. So, who are we to pick one species over another, particularly when, well, the so-called preferred species is in the way of a greenhouse gas reducing project?
There’s a big problem in the so-called “environmentally conscious” community right now. There is little clarity. Everyone accepts climate disruption as real. Based, however, upon their choices and behaviors and statements, what’s lacking is an understanding of what the inexorable fates of beloved ecosystems and scenes and experiences are. The future is acknowledged, but quantitative judgment is missing. Perception is both innumerate and myopic. I know those designations are harsh, but I do not know how else to explain the behaviors I have seen, from choices on plastics, to opposing all genetic modification of anything, to opposing wind and solar farms, and even supporting making it harder and more expensive to site offshore wind farms. Do people consider our circumstances a climate emergency or not? It seems to me that if it is an emergency, other criteria are less important now, however important in normal times.
So, back to the holiday. My goals are to get out for good runs three or four times, twisting about the networked neighborhoods of Hyannisport, with plenty of sunscreen aboard. Apart from that my goals are reading. I have three key books along, The third I want to complete. I want to make significant progress on the first two.
The first book is Monteith and Unsworth’s fourth edition of Principles of Environmental Physics. I am privileged to have been invited to contribute a chapter regarding the interaction of bryophytes and their physical world in an edition of a major (online) book Bryophyte Ecology, written by professor emerita Janice Glime. I need to understand the literature before I can say anything sensible. Principles of Environmental Physics is a start.
The second book is David Burch’s Modern Marine Weather: From Time-Honored Traditional Knowledge to the Latest Technology. I know a bit of meteorology, and I’m supposed to tool up on New England marine meteorology in preparation for a 5 day sailing cruise beginning in late August. Both my sons are coming, with my elder son, David, being certified skipper. We’ll be plying the waters of Narragansett Bay, and then Rhode Island Sound and then out towards Martha’s Vineyard. But it will be, prime hurricane season!
The third book, and most important, is Discordant Harmonies, a New Ecology for the Twenty-First Century by Daniel B Botkin. This is really an extension of Peter Del Tredici’s sympathies, those offered in his (famous) essay “The Flora of the Future“, even if Botkin’s work predated that essay by Del Tredici. The idea is that climate has been disrupted. There is no going back home again. Things will change. So the idea that relative composition of floral (and faunal) species will remain the same in these markedly new circumstances is silly. The situation may well still be tolerable for people, but it will inevitably be different. Some conventional trees and plants will die and become unsustainable. New ones will sprout up, often hardier ones. But Botkin goes deeper.
Photograph by Professor Peter Del Tredici of “the beach on Fisher’s Island off the coast of Connecticut — not a native plant anywhere.”
Botkin was suggested to me as someone who had done good hard about what a biosphere will look like in an altered climate. If, they argued, it is true that the atmosphere composition of Carbon Dioxide hasn’t been like this for over a million years, because Carbon Dioxide is such a key driver of how climate behaves, this means that climate will dramatically change, even if we manage to get emissions under control. After this all equilibrates, we will be in a climate state which has never been experienced in human history. Think of that.
Among many other implications, what this means is that the experience of all the indigenous peoples on the planet will be obsolesced, because no one has ever seen anything like this. If we do not get emissions under control, well, that’s a world of nightmares, and no one knows what to do about those, even if everyone, from time to time, shares them.
I am moved to read this, during this holiday from retirement, because we, as towns, a state, a country, a world are really not making progress, even if we have expressed a lot of loud claims to want to make progress. We have not stopped Carbon Dioxide concentrations from increasing, let alone reducing it. And many of us, although we nod in acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation, simply don’t get that fixing this means accepting major changes in lifestyles and attitudes. We claim, for example, to want to see climate justice and environmental justice done. But if we refuse to give up the pretty sights of our privileged suburban settings in favor of zero Carbon energy development, we rapidly come to a place where, once again, we throw people with less means, primarily people of color under the bus. There’s something familiarly unjust about that, even if the intermediate steps claimed to be seeking justice.
Everything is connected to everything else, yes, but it is key to understand how and how much they are interconnected. Tugging at one strand can make it worse elsewhere. It’s time to learn these things. This is not anything new or different. It’s something that ecologists and even theoretical ecologists have noted since the early 1970s. Consider:
The moral is clear: in the absence of comprehensive knowledge, a deliberate chance in the ecology, even an apparently minor one, is a very risky proposition.Hirsch, M., and S. Smale, Differential Equations, Dynamical Systems, and Linear Algebra, Academic Press, 1974, section 12.3, page 273.
But, hey, why pay attention to Mathematics? That’s just a bunch of boring irrelevant stuff.
The above refers to a longstanding paradox relating to predator-prey coupling of Canadian Lynx and Snowshoe Hare, at least as measured by reports of numbers of fur pelts by the Hudson Bay Company. The paradox was that the dimensionality of the Hare series was 3 but that of the Lynx series was only 2. If they are coupled in the classical Lotka-Volterra manner, the dimensions should agree. Because the peak of Hare follows that of Lynx in some years, It also looks like Hares eat Lynx in those years. The paradox was recently resolved by Deng (2018).
The fate of civilization depends upon learning such Mathematics, actual Ecology, and actual Geophysics.
I am hoping Botkin can teach me something insightful about the Ecology of the Future, whether or not people still have a significant role to play. And if I and we fail to learn, perhaps the lesson can be found in another book, one I did read in full, some years back. It’s by David M Raup and called Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck?
All photographs by Jan Galkowski, 2021.
Environmental activists and local residents in Massachusetts are urging the group behind a planned natural gas power plant to consider whether battery storage could do the job with fewer climate concerns.
“It’s six years since this project was proposed,” said Susan Smoller, a resident of Peabody, where the plant would be sited. “We have different alternatives available to us now and we should at least talk about it before we commit.”
The organization developing the plant announced last month that it will pause its plans for at least 30 days to address community concerns and reevaluate possible alternatives, but some involved are still skeptical that storage could be a viable solution.
The proposed plant is a project of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), a nonprofit that helps municipal utilities procure power supply and advocates for their interests. The 55-megawatt facility would be a so-called “peaker plant,” intended to run only at times of peak demand, estimated at no more than 250 hours per year.
MMWEC contends that the facility’s emissions would be lower than those of 94% of the fossil fueled peaker plants in New England. The reliability the new plant provides would also allow participating utilities to invest in more intermittent renewables like solar and wind, the organization claims.
Fourteen municipal utilities have signed on to the project, though two have filed paperwork asking to be released from their agreements.
Opponents of the plant are concerned about the additional greenhouse gas emissions as well as the potential for ground-level pollution in an area that is already exposed to high levels of ozone. They also worry that laws and regulations will make the burning of fossil fuels obsolete, leaving consumers on the hook for an $85 million plant that isn’t even used.
“I don’t want to be paying for an outmoded dirty peaker plant 25 years from now when it’s not even legal to run them,” Smoller said.
Resistance to the proposed plant has picked up in recent months, as stakeholders have learned more about the plan and started speaking up. In May, a group of 87 health care professionals sent MMWEC a letter opposing the plan.
In the face of this growing opposition, MMWEC decided to take what it called the “unusual step” of putting a hold on its plans to take “another look at whether advancements in technology make a different approach possible today.”
Experts say that, in general, battery storage is a viable alternative for plants that only run when demand is highest. Batteries could charge up during times of lower demand, when the power supply is generally from cleaner sources, and then discharge at times of high demand, displacing the energy from peaker plants, which is generally dirtier and more expensive. A study by nonprofit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy found that two-thirds of Massachusetts peaker plants burn primarily oil, a high-emissions fuel.
As more renewable energy is added to the grid, the power charging the batteries will get yet cleaner, amplifying the impact.
Furthermore, the cost of utility-scale storage fell nearly 70% between 2015 — when the Peabody plant was proposed — and 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and is expected to continue its downward trajectory.
“Not only are they cost-competitive with things like power plants, but that’s going to be even more and more true as you’re starting to plan into the future,” said Elena Krieger, author of the peaker plant study.
Krieger points to storage projects in California that are already proving that case. In Oakland, a 36-megawatt battery is planned to replace part of the power supplied by an existing jet fuel-fired power plant.
In Monterey County, a 300-megawatt battery array recently came online, consisting of some 99,000 individual battery modules that are charged mainly during hours when solar energy is contributing the most to the grid. Plans are in the works to add another 100 megawatts this summer.
“It’s not a matter of, ‘Can it do it?’ It’s doing it,” said Jason Burwen, interim chief executive of the Energy Storage Association. “The question is the specifics.”
And in Peabody, the specifics are not promising for a storage solution, said Peter Dion, general manager of Wakefield Municipal Gas and Light, one of the municipal utilities signed on to the project. He is unconvinced that batteries would offer the reliability project participants need. A natural gas plant can be counted on the run when needed, for as long as needed. Storage can be dispatched quickly, but only lasts for a limited time.
Deploying more batteries could help mitigate this concern, but space and location are also major issues, Dion said. By his estimate, the number of batteries it would take to adequately replace the power plant would require three acres of land, far more than is available at the proposed site.
Choosing a different site wouldn’t make sense, he said. There is an existing power plant on the intended site in Peabody, so the infrastructure is already in place to hook up a new facility.
“You couldn’t put enough batteries on that site to make an appreciable difference,” Dion said.
The financial numbers are also unlikely to add up, he said. The power plant would be expected to run for 30 years. In that timespan, batteries would need to be replaced at least twice, he said. Batteries may be affordable in the short-term, Dion said, but would likely cost more in the long-run.
“Batteries are a great supplement, but they are not a replacement,” he said.
As the break in planning for the Peabody plant continues, opponents appreciate MMWEC’s willingness to reassess but are not easing up on their challenge to the project. The Massachusetts Climate Action Network is working with another nonprofit to investigate clean energy alternatives to the project. The group is also pushing the municipal utilities to engage with the residents in each district involved to hear their concerns and ideas.
“Hopefully the pause represents a willingness to partner with ratepayers to explore alternatives,” said the climate action network’s executive director Sarah Dooling. “I hope it is a good-faith gesture.”
(A larger version of the above can be seen by right-clicking the above and choosing to open it in a new browser tab.)
Kempton, Willett, Felipe M. Pimenta, Dana E. Veron, and Brian A. Colle. “Electric power from offshore wind via synoptic-scale interconnection.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, no. 16 (2010): 7240-7245.
Weber, Juliane, Mark Reyers, Christian Beck, Marc Timme, Joaquim G. Pinto, Dirk Witthaut, and Benjamin Schäfer. “Wind power persistence characterized by superstatistics.” Scientific reports 9, no. 1 (2019): 1-15.