Category: Environment

If This New Tech is Legit, Global Warming May Have Met Its Solution

If this development is legitimate — and not a hoax like, say, cold fusion of a few years back — this new technology could literally save the human race.

Brilliant Light Power Logo

Brilliant Light Power Logo

Researchers at a well-funded startup called Brilliant Light Power have used a quantum physics technique to convert hydrogen molecules to something called “hydrino” — essentially dark matter — so efficiently that they were able in a recent public demonstration to produce more than a million watts of electricity from a relatively small sample in a small, lightweight device.

I am cautiously wildly optimistically skeptical. Not being a physicist, I cannot evaluate the underlying science here. But it’s worth noting that four separate teams of validators using cross-supporting methodologies separately confirmed BLP’s SunCell’s production of one million watts of electricity. Reports say the demonstration produced power gains of over 100 times the power to ignite the Hydrino reaction, and at power densities higher than any previously known energy source.

The company is targeting industrial uses first and plans to have commercially viable products on the market in 2018.

I’m going to keep a very close eye on this development.

Semantics Matter: It’s Climate Change, Not Global Warming

Global-Climate-ChangeAmong other research techniques, I have created a Google feed that brings me every day supposedly top news in the field of global climate change. This feed includes items both from the scientific community and its supporters, as well as links to what the climate change deniers are saying these days. I must admit I often find the latter disconcerting and confusing, but it’s important to know what the other side is thinking, even when they appear not to be. Thinking, that is.

For some reason, I noticed in today’s feed a significant number of headlines that use the phrase “global warming” instead of the vastly preferable “climate change” which is not only more accurate, but less arguable. In fact, four of the nine items offered by the Google feed use the words “global warming” in their headlines.

As a writer and as an observer of the human condition, I have often commented on — some would say railed against — the improper labeling of political positions in particular. Most of my friends are by now tired of hearing from me when they use the phrase “pro-life”. I maintain that I don’t know anyone who isn’t pro-life. The issue isn’t life or death, it’s choice or force. So I prefer calling those on the conservative side of that argument “anti-choice,” simply because it seems to me to be more accurate depiction of their overall philosophy. But I digress.

Not all climate change manifests as increasing temperature. Even though that is the underlying cause of climate change at the atmospheric and oceanic levels, the experience of it on earth often takes the form of extreme weather, much of which can be utterly cold. The use of the term “global warming” gives cover to those opponents — I should say disbelievers — of climate change when they want to talk about it at a time when there is a great snow storm brewing. I still have a picture in my head of United States Senator on the floor of that once-august body offering a snowball from outside the capital as evidence that global warming was a hoax.

The imprecision and even inaccuracy of the term should by itself be enough reason for professional journalists and concerned bloggers to avoid it. We are experiencing climate change, on a global scale, greatly exacerbated by the behavior of us humans as we go about our business in unsustainable ways. It does no one any good to confuse the issue with outdated terms.

 

Dave Winer’s Right, Elon Musk Wrong About Mars

I’ve always respected Dave Winer, even — maybe particularly — when we’ve disagreed. He’s a Big Picture guy who generally exhibits clear thinking and crisp writing on a broad range of subjects. I’ve recently begun paying closer attention to what he’s saying.

In a post today on his blog, Scripting News, he makes the salient point that Elon Musk, one of the brightest inventors and futurists of our time, is wrong-headed when he argues forcefully for the establishment of a million-member society of Earthlings on Mars. Musk, founder and leader of SpaceX, a civilian space exploration company with an already impressive track record of accomplishments, sees a Mars colony as the best hope for mankind’s survival in the wake of the destruction of our home planet’s environment.

Winer quite properly points out that the fatal flaw in this notion is that, “if you think you have an escape hatch, what’s the incentive to make it work here on the only planet that humans inhabit, or can inhabit, that we know of?”

I’ve been making this point for years to my Evangelical Christian friends who pin their future hopes and dreams on a non-physical Heaven. If you believe Planet Earth is essentially a corrupt place filled with Original Sinners and you despair of it ever being redeemable, you are not incentivized to expend great effort to keep it from deteriorating.

Like Dave, I’m a huge booster and fan of interplanetary exploration and I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of creating Earth colonies on other planets we find that might be inhabitable. But to see those settlements as last desperate outposts of humanity in need of cosmic rescue is clearly a mistake.

(Winer also points out another aspect of the fallacy: what makes us think that if we establish a rescue outpost on Mars, or anywhere else, we won’t destroy that location just as we have this one?)

Climate Change Tipping Points Appear to Be Accumulating

IN A PARTICULARLY SCARY SUMMARY, climate change commentator Michael Klare assembles a lineup of emerging “tipping points” that combine to produce the very real possibility of an explosive uptick in climate danger far sooner than anticipated.

Global-Climate-ChangeKlare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, points out that current thinking focuses on a linear progression of climatological shift. In other words, it depends on things getting progressively but steadily worse. But there are many indications that Nature isn’t going to behave quite so mathematically predictably. Rather, there is increasing evidence that tipping points in which sudden increases in the pace of climate change occur in short periods of time are beginning to occur.

Among the more concerning:

disruption of the North Atlantic Current. Part of what Klare calls the “global conveyor belt,” this oceanic flow keeps Europe far warmer than it would naturally be. It is being disrupted by the melting Greenland ice sheet, which shows signs of accelerating. This could shut down this conveyor belt — known to climate scientists as Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC — resulting in huge changes in Europe and along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. You could say this would result in the climate running amok, but that’s probably not a favorite pun in scientific circles. 😀

unexpectedly rapid warming in the Arctic. This region has experienced more warming than any other on the planet’ this raises many red flags because “the impact of climate change there is already so obvious.” One side effect of this warming is the accelerated melting of the permafrost layer, which is doubly concerning because this geologic artifact contains more than twice the carbon already present in the atmosphere. This, as Klare points out, “could prove to be more than a tipping point.  It could be a planetary catastrophe” in its own right.

the coming disappearance of coral reefs. These colorful reefs are absolutely essential parts of the ecosystem of marine life. Worldwide, upwards of 25% of all marine species depend directly on the coral reefs, creating a widespread ripple effect on affected other species. Coral has always been known to be highly sensitive to shifts in temperature and acidity of its environment, both of which are undergoing significant change as a result of ice melting and current shifting. Already, scientists estimate that more than half of the world’s coral has died just in the last 30 years. This news ought to strike terror into the hearts of all homo sapiens.

drying out of the Amazon. Already devastated by greed in the form of deforestation, the attendant results of climate change have produced severe drought in this ordinarily very wet region of the world, resulting in more and more deaths of trees. When the Amazon forest disappears and the biodeversity it supports along with it, the canopy of leaves that crown it will no longer be an effective absorbent of carbon dioxide.

Taken together — and these are but a few snapshots of similar kinds of “singularities” that appear to be beginning all over the planet — these “tipping points” suggest that the need for action is even more urgent than thought. Here’s how Klare summarizes the situation:

[These trends]  are sufficiently advanced to tell us that we need to look at climate change in a new way: not as a slow, linear process to which we can adapt over time, but as a non-linear set of events involving dramatic and irreversible changes to the global ecosphere.

The difference is critical: linear change gives us the luxury of time to devise and implement curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, and to construct protective measures such as sea walls.  Non-linear change puts a crimp on time and confronts us with the possibility of relatively sudden, devastating climate shifts against which no defensive measures can protect us.

As I’ve often written, it is no longer a question of averting or avoiding the effects of climate change; they are part of the everyday reality of nearly everyone on the planet even if they are not yet always detectable by our senses. But if we are to avoid the most serious consequences — up to and including the extinction of our species on this planet — we must act now, we must act boldly and decisively, and we must set aside all other concerns and issues to come together as a planet in our common humanity.

Nothing — nothing at all — is more important.

A Lion is Not a Chicken

Check out the new article on my spiritual blog at One Mind Fellowship this evening.

In one of the more thoughtful posts I’ve read on the subject in a long while, Mark Morford of SFGate neatly summarizes my feelings — and those of many other people who consider the question of what we eat and how we get it to be part of Sacred Nature — about why killing animals is such a morally questionable undertaking.

I think you’ll find both my take and Morford’s piece worthy of consideration.

Potential Double-Edged Precedent in Ohio Oil Drilling Suit; Why Do States Have Such Authority?

An Ohio State Supreme Court ruling today that slammed the door on local communities’ rights to prohibit or license tracking that was permitted by state law could be a double-edged sword if it gains a national judicial following.

In the case, an openly fragmented state court ruled 4-3 that the town of Munroe Falls, a suburb of Akron, could not require an energy company to get local drilling permits before proceeding with a well for which it had already obtained state licensing. Ohio’s constitution, somewhat unusually, has a “home rule” provision that gives cities and counties more say in such matters than is true in most other states (though, notably, not Texas, where they can exert even greater control).

If municipalities can’t overrule states in such matters, it could be argued that by analogy states shouldn’t be allowed to overrule Federal regulations. That would result in a uniform national policy on oil drilling and particularly the dangerous practice of tracking.

I’ve often wondered why states are permitted any regulation over natural resources and related phenomenon which clearly do not recognize state boundaries. For example, when a state writes its own rules about air pollution that undercut those of the federal government, the dirty air their states’ manufacturers and cars are then permitted to generate doesn’t stay in their states; it flows over into adjoining states…and even those beyond immediately adjacent. So why should they have any authority to impose their filthy air on the residents of other, more appropriately behaving states?

Using the logic of this court ruling — which is obviously not legally binding outside Ohio — it may someday become possible for the Feds to regulate clean air and water for an increasingly mobile and national society.

And that would be a good thing indeed.

 

More Conservative Anti-Science Poppycock

The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday passed a bill that would ban subject-matter experts from advising the EPA on regulations while opening the door to such advice from industry representatives with no specific expertise and a clear political, anti-regulatory agenda.

You can’t make up this kind of stuff.

As reported by Lindsay Abrams at Salon.com, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. She went on to explain:

In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest.

Or, as Union of Concerned Scientists Director Andrew A. Rosenberg said in an editorial for RollCall:

“In other words, academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, along with two others designed to interfere with the EPA’s work. One of those bills would ban what the GOP calls “secret science” by which it means science that hasn’t undergone testing beyond that required by accepted scientific practices. The other would put a rush on permit applications for permits by bypassing provisions of the Clean Air Act.

The trio, wrote Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, in an editorial for the Hill, represents “the culmination of one of the most anti-science and anti-health campaigns I’ve witnessed in my 22 years as a member of Congress.”

Time for Progressive Senators to Be Obstructionist?

Globe on fire in folded human handsThe Senate blocked the Keystone XL Pipeline yesterday thanks largely to a coalition of progressive Democratic Senators who are emerging as a possible voice of conscience in the coming GOP-dominated Congress.

While the stoppage will certainly be temporary, at least from the perspective of Senate action, this new group voiced by Elizabeth Warren and including Sheldon Whitehouse, Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley among others appears, based on news reports, to be ready to play the obstructionist role so long occupied by the Right over the past six years. They are being called the “hell no” caucus and Merkley of Oregon drove a stake in the ground with his promise to “use whatever tools I have as a senator to protect the environment.” Yes, this includes not only filibuster, but a whole range of procedural tools that Republicans have jealously guarded and enhanced in recent years.

Meanwhile, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has lost his grip on some of these left-leaning Senators. Claire McCaskill, for example, voted against Reid and told a reporter, “I’m not going to let them defund Planned Parenthood, for example.”

Unfortunately, a number of centrist Democrats — focused on short-term political goals rather than long-term human ones — is prepared to join Republicans in backing the horrific idea of the pipeline. That’s where the “hell no” caucus plans to do a lot of its work. It’s not only about the environment but it is about the environment. Global climate change is a real, imminent threat to the survival of the species and it’s essential that someone play a leadership role here. It would be fitting of a caucus of progressives played the same exact role of stopping all unwise legislation that the Tea Party did in the last three Congresses for the Republicans.

As Whitehouse said, “We will have more tools in the minority than we had in the majority.”

The net result may well be two more years of stalemate in the Senate, which is not good but is preferable to a dismantling of sound environmental policy by a Republican Party hell-bent on giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the environment who line their campaign coffers.

More Evidence of Intertwingularity: How the Wolves Changed the Rivers in Yellowstone

People who follow my writings know that I am absolutely fascinated by the amazing degree to which the various species on our planet are interdependent or, as I like to say with homage to Ted Nelson, intertwingled.

The latest example of this that I’ve encountered involves a story of what happened not only to the ecosystem but to the course of rivers after wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Watch this short (nine-minute) video that explains all of the ramifications we encountered when we brought back the wolves, who had been absent from the park for 70 years. The story is quite remarkable.

 

Not Global Climate Change, But Other Ways What We Do Impacts the Environment

When people argue against the scientific fact that human behavior causes or exacerbates global climate change, they often act as if they fully understood the entire chain from man’s production of CO2 and methane in the air over Los Angeles to extremely powerful hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana.

They don’t.

Here’s a less traumatic example of how we often just don’t get it.

In my home town of Monterey, CA, there is a serious scare about the safety of some seafood being harvested. Fishing and tourism (which depends to some degree on fish and fishing) depend heavily on healthy seafood. The problem: a somewhat unusual outbreak of a biotoxin called domoic acid.This poison is produced by a particular species of algae. But they don’t always  produce it. It appears they do so when the water in which they grow has an excess amount of nitrogen.

OK, here’s where the humans come in.

As the area experiences “a large coastal population boom, more septic tanks and more lawns [are] being fertilized.” This increases the flow of nitrogen into the Monterey Bay, “altering the marine environment in a way that can lead to higher domoic acid concentrations.”

This stuff isn’t dangerous to humans…except in large concentrations. And when it does affect us, it does so in particularly nasty ways. “Once ingested, the toxin immediately attacks the brain by rapidly shrinking the hippocampus, causing loss of motor coordination, amnesia, violent seizures, vomiting, permanent neurological damage and even heart failure within two days.” That’s in the somewhat large sea lions that have been hit by the domoic acid onslaught at the rate of 20-plus per day over recent months.

But intermediate species including shellfish, sardines and anchovies along with brown pelicans, otters, dolphin and whales, are also affected by domoic acid. All because too many people want to live in this beautiful place and fertilize their lawns and gardens.

So don’t try to convince me that you can absolutely rule out the possibility of human behavior causing or worsening global climate change. You just can’t do that.