Leave the trees alone

Here’s an idea. Let’s cut down then burn trees to produce electricity. After all, there are millions of trees and they’re renewable, right? Besides, the carbon released in combustion will be replaced with new trees. Simple.

If you’re a bit skeptical that this is a winning proposition, then you have no place in the U.S. Senate. In the coming weeks, the body is poised to give bipartisan support for declaring trees a renewable energy source and should therefore be counted under the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

As it happens, and the cynics in each of us could hardly be surprised, this whole notion is loony and completely refuted by facts. And, as we’ve learned, facts just don’t matter anymore. Here’s Eduardo Porter, writing for the New York Times:

There are a few problems with this thinking. Wood is not very efficient. In fact, burning trees to generate electricity generates more carbon per unit of power than using coal. Power companies would produce fewer emissions if they burned coal and left the forest alone to keep sucking carbon out of the air.

And there is the problem of timing. Sure forests regrow. But it takes many decades for seedlings to grow into trees and recapture all the carbon emitted.

“It’s a double whammy, because you remove an active sink that was sucking carbon out of the air,” said Mary S. Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, which opposes the assumption that biomass is carbon neutral. “Under the most conservative assumptions you are worse off for 40 to 50 years.”

The world simply does not have that kind of time.

Meh. Ignore the headlines, deny the science, and just sit back and enjoy our warming future. Our grandchildren will surely thank us.

Childhood: we missed that

The corporate reform of education, led by Bill Gates et al., sets college graduation as the end-goal of all learning. So, it is no surprise that policy makers, having drunk the Gates Kool-aid, would impose draconian measures on public schools, focused on Common Core and testing ad infinitum. After all, how are kids going to find their way to university if they haven’t mastered the elements of one-size-fits-all curricula? While we’re at it, let’s hold teachers “accountable” via their students’ test scores. Ah, that’s the ticket.

But, of course, this is all bullshit. There is no scientific basis whatsoever that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, the two major pieces of federal legislation, work or even can work. Leave it to Americans to do it big and wrong. We don’t need no damn science or the lessons available from those who actually know what they’re doing when it comes to designing and operating superior education systems.

In their zeal to create college-ready automatons, the powers that be forgot at least one important factor: children are remarkably different in circumstance, desire, and ability. This is especially critical during early childhood development, which centers on play, socializing, and exploring immediate worlds.

A mother of a boy entering kindergarten wonders about the monsters produced by wrong-headed politicians and their wealthy benefactors. She also happens to possess a doctorate in educational policy. She wrote an essay for The Washington Post.

I’m sad that my son won’t experience kindergarten as a gentle transition into the rhythms of school, as a space primarily for exploration and play, and as a place where building strong relationships with adults and other children is the primary annual goal. I’m sad that our culture of testing and assessment has moved down to even the youngest grades.

And I’m angry. I’m angry that in kindergarten he may be expected to meet standards that are not developmentally appropriate for him. I’m angry that our educational system ignores what research and evidence from other countries tells us is best for our children’s emotional, social, and academic lives.

I want to protect my son’s childhood, and I want him to grow and learn at his own pace. Increasingly, the early grades of our country’s public schools are not the place for kids like him — kids who are not ready at five to become “proficient” readers and writers — to thrive.

In a footnote, we’re told that the mother has enrolled her son in a local Waldorf school, which does not answer to the beat of the draconian drummer.

As I’ve said…

…Republicans pose an existential threat to the planet. Let’s consider two articles.

The first reports that carbon dioxide emissions surpassed 400 parts per million last year, about a year ahead of schedule, and that concentrations will continue an upward climb, never falling backwards.

“Once you have passed that barrier, it takes a long time for CO2 to be removed from the atmosphere by natural processes,” [Professor Richard Betts of the Met’s Hadley Centre and Exeter University] said. “Even if we cut emissions, we wouldn’t see concentrations coming down for a long time, so we have said goodbye to measurements below 400ppm at Mauna Loa.”

Climate scientists have consistently warned that if concentrations reach 450 ppm, then global temperatures will exceed the two degrees Centigrade threshold, long considered the cutoff between planetary disaster and species survival.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that CO2 concentrations must be stabilised at 450ppm to have a fair chance of avoiding global warming above 2C, which could carry catastrophic consequences.

Then there are the Republicans. They just denounced a carbon tax, which even conservative think tanks believe is the right, market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, Mr. Marmalade denies global warming. WTF.

A big stink

Writing for The Nation, Bill McKibben exposes another dark side to Hillary Clinton:

We’ve become the planet’s salesman for natural gas—and a key player in this scheme could become the next president of the United States. When Hillary Clinton took over the State Department, she set up a special arm, the Bureau of Energy Resources, after close consultation with oil and gas executives. This bureau, with 63 employees, was soon helping sponsor conferences around the world. And much more: Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that the secretary of state was essentially acting as a broker for the shale-gas industry, twisting the arms of world leaders to make sure US firms got to frack at will.

To take just one example, an article in Mother Jones based on the WikiLeaks cables reveals what happened when fracking came to Bulgaria. In 2011, the country signed a $68 million deal with Chevron, granting the company millions of acres in shale-gas concessions. The Bulgarian public wasn’t happy: Tens of thousands were in the streets of Sofia with banners reading Stop Fracking With Our Water. But when Clinton came for a state visit in 2012, she sided with Chevron (one of whose executives had bundled large sums for her presidential campaign in 2008). In fact, the leaked cables show that the main topic of her meetings with Bulgaria’s leaders was fracking. Clinton offered to fly in the “best specialists on these new technologies to present the benefits to the Bulgarian people,” and she dispatched her Eurasian energy envoy, Richard Morningstar, to lobby hard against a fracking ban in neighboring Romania. Eventually, they won those battles—and today, the State Department provides “assistance” with fracking to dozens of countries around the world, from Cambodia to Papua New Guinea.

Natural gas, by the way, should not be viewed as “the bridge fuel” between coal and renewables, as Ms. Clinton averred in a recent debate. The methane leaks from fracking and the natural gas delivery infrastructure have essentially overwhelmed CO2 reductions from diminished coal use. Besides, and this is a point worth emphasizing, natural gas displaces already available and inexpensive “green” resources like conservation, especially, and renewable generating resources like wind and solar.

Glub, glub

How high’s the water, Mama?

James Hansen and other climate scientists have renewed their warning about almost certain catastrophe in a newly published paper. Amelia Urry, writing for Grist, reports here.

Of particular interest to Snohomish PUD customers is the paper’s prediction about storms. Their severity will surely increase, dramatically so. I like this analogy from Urry:

And as the temperature gradient between the tropic and the polar oceans gets steeper, thanks to that slowing of ocean-mixing currents, we could see stronger storms, too.

This is surprisingly intuitive: Picture a temperature gradient like a hill, with the high temperatures up at the top and the low temperatures down at the bottom. As the highs get higher and the lows get lower, that hill gets a lot steeper — and the storms are the bowling balls you chuck down the hill. A bowling ball will pick up a lot more speed on a steep hill, and hurt a lot more when it finally runs into something. Likewise, by the time these supercharged storms are slamming into coasts in the middle latitudes, they will be carrying a whole lot of deadly force with them.

Hansen, who first warned of the greenhouse effect before Congress in 1988, has witnessed repeated expressions of ho-hum since. This recent paper concludes that years of inaction will make the earth intolerable for millions of inhabitants, with coastlines being gobbled up by rising sea levels—not in hundreds of years but by the end of this century, if not sooner.

And the lights will turn off with greater frequency.

Politics and global warming

According to a recent study, the strongest predictor of whether or not you believe that climate change is real and mostly human-caused, as most scientists believe, is your political preference. Essentially, if you’re liberal and vote Democratic, you are more likely to think that the globe is warming and will only get hotter, with potentially disastrous consequences—again, as most scientists conclude. However, if you’re a Republican, you also dismiss the fact and science of climate change.

Two broad conclusions emerged. First, many intuitively appealing variables (such as education, sex, subjective knowledge, and experience of extreme weather events) were overshadowed in predictive power by values, ideologies, worldviews and political orientation. Second, climate change beliefs have only a small to moderate effect on the extent to which people are willing to act in climate-friendly ways.

That second conclusion is almost as depressing as the first. Most of us hold fast to our political beliefs, more so if we are conservative, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to convince a Republican that climate change poses a threat to the planet and its species. Yet, as the study’s authors found, even if we accept the reality of climate change and the underlying science, we’re hesitant to do anything about it.