Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How's the ol' CO2 doin'?

Too good. Here's the current plot of atmospheric CO2 from Mauna Loa:

I'm actually surprised that a steady rise can be seen on such a short-term plot, I've always thought a distinct trend would only be noticeable on decade-long scales. Now I've always thought that the greenhouse effect is more of a blanket effect. Water vapor is like a comforter, thick (abundant) and CO2 is like thinner but very efficient blanket. Methane is like one of those space blankets, very thin, very efficient at trapping heat. Anyway adding CO2 is making the blanket it thicker, and we all know by experience how with some materials even a thin additional layer can make you feel much warmer.
The diagram below shows that CO2 has one of its absorption peaks right in the frequency range* of Earth's outgoing radiation:

Those of use who work on volcanic rocks already know this of course, since the absorption of infrared is one way measure the amount of CO2 dissolved in volcanic glasses. Some people (including, but not limited to cranks) embarrass themselves by not understanding this. BTW,  a similar diagram was used in nice rebuttal of just such an attempt to refute the importance of CO2.
Then there are more ridiculous denials of the importance of atmospheric CO2.
"CO2 is plant food". Plants use carbon dioxide, so what? That's like saying plants need water, so water cannot cause floods.
"The lethal concentration of CO2 is 5,000 ppm and there's only 390 ppm in the air." That's like saying dew can't promote rust because there's not enough water to drown you. So many more, all logical fallacies

Alas, such nonsense appeal to those in Western civilazation who are scientifically ignorant and trapped in the selfish spiral and think any discussion of global warming and needed mitigation are part of some totalitarian plot hatched by far-away elites targeted at them. You know, the folks who think any penny of tax or regulation that provides the slightest hinderance to their ability to buy any luxury is the equivalent to slavery or being sent to the death camps.Its like an autoimmune overreaction in these people's psyche, and of course those comparisons belittle the experiences and defames the memories of slaves and concentration camp inmates.

I don't waste my energy arguing with such people (and won't here). There's a reckoning ahead for them entirely of their own making.

*I know its lazy to use a wiki image, but unfortunately I'm too busy to make my own from primary sources right now.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Positive developments

Things do improve sometimes. One of the relief wells (the method with the most realistic chance of stopping the leak) is nearing its target, at least according to the Oildrum.

And then there's this.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Misplaced priorities in education.

A private Delaware school, the Red Lion Christian Academy, has been accused of athletic recruiting and playing violations. Then again we shouldn't be surprised given the nature of the school and the parents who choose it. The attitudes of the parents are amazing, one is proud to call herself a "helicopter parent", and the article continues, "Another parent, Michelle Hoffman, who lives in a development adjacent to the Red Lion campus, remembers how moved she was in 2007 when she looked out her windows the night the football stadium lights were on for the first time and saw the cross atop the church through the glow." Are these people for real?

This sad little tale also reminds us that misplaced priorities regarding student athletics starts before the college level.

Plate tectonic trails?

It seems that some like the idea of setting up hiking trails not based on modern topography, but based on reconstructions. of mountain chains that were once continuous, but have been since split by plate tectonics.
Cool idea...or not?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Higher Ed Woes Part II: Scientist "glut" is an example of how the entrenched ignore the real issues.

It would come as a shock to many non-geologists that many geology departments no longer have faculty who specialize in rocks ( the field of petrology), the constituents of rocks or minerals (mineralogy) and the chemistry involved in the workings of the earth (geochemistry). Specialists in structural geology (folding, faulting etc) and geological time and layering (stratigraphy and sedimentology) are also considered superfluous. Prominent geologist John Dewey summed up this sad state of affairs nicely, in an acceptance speech for a major award no less. Suffice to say that many undergraduates in such departments graduate with a high school level understanding of the earth. I wonder if poorly-trained geologists played a role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster?
I won't go into the reasons for this here (it deserves its own post), but many older, comfortable and tenured faculty in such departments care not a whit. In the departments that still cover the basics, many of the established petrologists, mineralogists, structural geologists etc. only pay lip service to addressing this problem. Even worse, they continue to recruit and graduate PhDs who have little chance of the job opportunities and security of the baby-boomers who came before. This seems to be occurring in many sciences. This labor market problem is a huge one, yet it is rarely acknowledged.

IMHO the reason is simple: many established faculty have theirs and crying for more money for grad students, while at the same time dumbing down and shrinking departments, makes their lives more comfortable. They're not getting monetarily wealthy, but gain in the riches faculty care about, i.e. department resources, perks, and status. The current system provides proteges to help them get their work done or a bigger chunk of the departmental resource pie, all with no sacrifice on the part of the established. Even with more money this will not change. Pulling up the ladder behind themselves is what many boomers do best.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Still ranting on sacrifice.

In the June National Geographic, there is piece on a day without driving. Using Pittsburgh as an example it claims that if more people use public transportation, carpools and drive the speed limit they would save 213,700 gallons of gas. It was unclear if this was for a day or a year. Now I'm not to sure how realistic parts of  "eco-friendly" driving are in real world commuting traffic, but overall the suggestions seem to be such  miniscule changes to ones life that at worst they would qualify as inconvenient.

Inconvenience does not equal sacrifice. This is sacrifice.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Energy:Some Americans do know how to sacrifice.

Thinking long and hard, I've concluded that I should temper my earlier remarks about Americans and sacrifice. Coming from a working class background filled with first responders, service members (I was once both), and people who took whatever job available to get their families the necessities, it was inexcusable to forget that large numbers can and do sacrifice. This includes sometimes risking the ultimate sacrifice for others. However, the burden of change that must be made in terms of energy sources and usage in this country cannot be placed solely on the backs of these, my people. First of all without everyone contributing, efforts are likely to fail. Second, I would hazard a guess and say that per capita usage of electricity, heating/cooling and transportation from fossil fuels rises with income level. The exurbanites commuting daily by themselves from their McMansions with 2 acre lawns and so on cannot expect to continue to live their wasteful lifestyles while others who already sacrifice are expected to do more.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oil is everything...and yet we waste it like crazy.

I think it is a good thing that a story on how much petroleum is involved in our lives was front and center on Yahoo news this past week. It shows the thing that makes it so hard to transition away from petroleum and convinces some that peaking and declining production will produce nothing less than a collapse of civilization. The thing to keep in mind is that amount of oil that goes into petrochemicals in the US (based on March 2010 data) is around 2.9%, while gasoline that were burn through like crazy uses 46%. If people want to keep all the modern materials derived from oil during the production decline, they will have to accept reduced driving. No more idling in the Hummer at the end of the cul-de-sac for helicopter mom as she waits for little Stone and Avery (or whatever pretentious names they give 'em) to be dropped off from the schoolbus. You can walk down the end of the street, do ya a world of good!
As geologist Ken Deffeyes once said, "Crude oil is much too valuable to burn as a fuel".

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Obama's speech on the GOM spill

Bob Cesca writes what I've been thinking about Pres. Obama's Oval office address and the reactions to it..
Many of the comments in response pretty much prove his point.

Update: Jon Stewart did a montage of Presidents back to Nixon call for energy independence, you can see it at the Daily Show site. Unfortunately I think he missed the mark on it by making it look like a failure of just leadership and ignoring the lack of will among the American public on this issue. And based on comments I've read today on the clip, that's the attitude of many people.
Lets be honest, Americans lack the collective will to do anything about it. Congress doesn't do anything about energy because "thou shall not ask anything of the American people". Most of the American public (dare I say most of comfortable developed world) acts like and expects to be treated like spoiled children.

And deep down we know it.

'nother update: the fickle punditry changes their minds, what a shock.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Random odd, surreal and pathetic happenings

How did that song go? "I don't care if it rains of freezes 'long as I have my plastic Jesus, riding on the dashboard of my car"  Umm, maybe not.

Ah, Jersey.

Ah, Delaware!

That much into Home Depot, really?

Good time to buy.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Higher Education Woes Part I: More Funding Alone Won't Help

Colleges and universities in the U.S. have become less and less able to provide the courses and faculty expertise they have in the past, while at the same time tuition and fees have skyrocketed.  Over time, the quality of course content has declined as the pressure to enroll and graduate more students has increased. This problem poses a threat to rational research and problem-solving that will be need in the coming decades of change.
The blame for this is usually leveled at cuts in state budgets, but the problem exists in private institutions as well.The real culprit is the ever-growing, highly paid, non-educational administrative beast that must be fed by increased student payments (hence higher enrollment), less staff and less upper-level classes with small enrollments. Marketing is key in bringing in more money to feed the beast and eventually marketing becomes an end unto itself. College athletics is also part of this paradigm. All this was well-detailed by Bob Samuels in an April HuffPo piece that looked at the stressed UCal system. My favorite parts of his article:
"In 2008, there were 397 staff and administrators in the over 200k club making a collective total of $109 million, and in 2006, the same group had 214 members for a collective gross pay of $58.8 million."
"In other terms, the increased expense of administration not only takes money away from the instructional and research budgets, but it also gives power to people who have no connection to education." 

In short, the former supporting actors of educational institutions, administration and athletics, are now the prime reason for the existence of many colleges and universities. IMHO the problem is compounded by many self-righteous, tenured and ensconced baby-boomer faculty who are more concerned with their perks and retirement benefits than the future of their departments and the graduate students they keep running through the system.
Update: the Boston Globe had a piece today on the digs of college presidents at prestigious Boston area institutions and how the IRS is pushing to have them considered compensation. Now college president is a needed admin. position and one would expect that Harvard would put theirs up in one of the stately properties they own. But in any school, once you start adding more high-end administrators (usually to oversee some trivial matter that could be handled by existing mid-level offices) they require staff, swank offices, staff and housing.  You can see how the money will then flow away from education and research to support the compensation we are told such administrators require. Things do not have to be at the level of what is offered at MIT etc. for this to occur.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Important Sunday Stuff

I've made a rule for myself that I if I post on the weekends, it will only be on the most things that affect our lives.

- As if you hadn't heard, Sox rookie Nava had an incredible first at bat as the BoSox continued to dismantle the Phillies in the early innings.
- If all that scoring made you dizzy, you could have watched the all-important US-England "match" in World Cup futbol. Yes, that is England, not the UK or Britain, which is why they had this flag and not the Union Jack. Anyway, it was apparently a stunning draw, 1-1, the two goals interrupting some thrilling 90 minutes of umh... er.. passing. Now I have heard many people badmouth baseball for being slow, but World Cup football play is strikingly similar to the outfield warmup tosses before a baseball game. FIFA I have one word for you - shot-clock!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Comments now enabled

Sorry, I'm new at this and I did not have the correct setting for comments.

Food for thought

Without further ado, I give you the current official stats on U.S. oil consumption. You'll notice that BP is a big player domestically, nothing really strange there. They are a multi-national corporation like the other oil giants, legally allowed to operate in the US, and they had the resources to invest in drilling and production. The majority of Americans give little thought about oil until something like a spill or price crunch happens. Then they blame the politicians, who the people elected because they told them what they want to hear.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Climate Change: Most Americans accept global warming according to poll

While this is positive, the way the story is framed bugs me. The existence of God or reincarnation is belief, something based on faith that is untestable. Our understanding of the physical world and processes, such APGW, is based on rational inquiry or science. If scientific study determines something is happening, then it is. People can either choose to accept or reject that reality. Use of the term belief implies that something such as global warming, or evolution, the germ mechanism of disease is something unknowable, uncertain and a matter of faith.

"Leave BP alone" nonsense continues

A meme now running around the blogosphere and in columns is that people should stop badmouthing BP because. among other things, their stock is plummeting. You can even see this on the left-leaning UK Guardian.
This is too big too fail on steroids, where we must rein in free speech simply because it may hurt a companies stocks.

I'm sorry, but BP faces ruin because of its actions, including the insane idea to self-insure their drilling operation. The stock market is supposed to be a means to an end, but obviously investing and financial games have become an end unto themselves. Ed Markey put it best on an interview this morning, "we can't have 28 year-old traders determining policy."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Energy: don't punish po' widdle BP?

On Monday, Forbes published this gem which basically claims that punishing BP and regulating offshore drilling is tantamount to attacking freedom. Authors Westbury and Stein write,"Capitalism is created by free people. Socialism, on the other hand, is what happens when people trade their freedom for the perception of safety." See, in their view freedom is only about making money, accidents happen and trying to prevent them undermines "freedom". I take it that they're saying regulation prevents companies from taking risks that allow the wealthy and powerful to make more money.  In other words, anything that is done to limit moneymaking is an assault on freedom. Anything by the government does that is, anything the "market" does is OK. Hmmm, the less wealthy are often at a disadvantage in a unregulated market and in principle can control activities of the government. Freedom then is apparently directly proportional to the amount of money you. What about the freedom to live on a clean coastline with clean water and air? They're silent on those points, but I imagine that they would not consider those to not be freedoms since they do not, "create wealth."
It is interesting to note that Westebury and Stein attempt to back up their point with a lie, "And back in the 1970s, the U.S. government stopped the building of nuclear power plants, partially because of an accident at Three Mile Island." Not true, the federal government did not ban the future construction of nuclear power plants, it was the increasing costs (including insurance costs) and energized local opposition. In other words the market did help to punish a whole industry for an accident, but since they do not want to see that same market result happen to offshore drilling, their world view required them to blame federal regulation instead. So when people say that the "invisible hand" of the market should deal with the consequences, they don't really mean it.

On the subject of BP itself , it is also interesting to note that BP began as the Anglo-Persian oil company in 1909. Now this was at the height of the British Empire, which seems to be the role model for many a modern self-styled conservatives in America.  The economic philosophy of the empire was laissez-faire and much of the policies of the empire reflected this. The wealthy and powerful controlled the UK with no pretensions otherwise and the building of the empire was openly conducted to further enrich those people. Look into the Raj, the Scramble for Africa, the Great Game and why the "Sun Never Sets on the British Empire". The Victorians who embraced laissez-faire also adhered to Westbury and Stein's concept of "freedom". When we consider the laissez-faire approach to the GOM spill, we should consider the results to its application to disaster in the ol' British Empire, the Irish Great Famine:
"Confronted by widespread crop failure in the autumn of 1845, Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel purchased £100,000 worth of Indian corn and corn meal secretly from America. Baring Bros & Co had to act as agents for the government. The government hoped that they would not "stifle private enterprise" and that their actions would not act as a disincentive to local relief efforts. Due to weather conditions, the first shipment did not arrive in Ireland until the beginning of February 1846.'...'Sir Charles Trevelyan, who was in charge of the administration of Government relief to the victims of the Irish Famine, limited the Government's actual relief because he thought "the judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson".'...'The new Lord John Russell Whig administration, influenced by their laissez-faire belief that the market would provide the food needed but at the same time ignoring the food exports to England, then halted government food and relief works, leaving many hundreds of thousands of people without any work, money or food." Quoted from the link.