Friday, August 30, 2019

Genocidal Acts in Kashmir

“Just returned from Kashmir. Twelve year olds detained and beaten in midnight raids. Women threatened with rape. Young boys given electric shocks, families unaware of their whereabouts. This is the NORMAL you talk about. This is the worst I have seen in the valley yet.” – Rana Ayyub, Tweet

BBC reports, “Security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir have been accused of carrying out beatings and torture in the wake of the government's decision to strip the region of its autonomy.”

France 24 reports: “A magistrate speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity said at least 4,000 people were arrested and held under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a controversial law that allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial.”

Guardian Kashmir page.

Added 9/1: in the Indian province of Assam, some 1.9 million people have been declared non-citizens, though their families have lived there for generations. The Indian government is building 10 giant concentration camps to hold them.

To the Indian defenders of their current government: if there is nothing wrong, and the Indian government wants the world to see there is nothing wrong, they need only restore normal communications and travel to Kashmir. As it is, it seems that India is concealing genocidal acts, if not outright genocide. Discouragingly, it appears that having the experience of colonization does not prevent a people from itself become colonizers.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Trump, Granting Wishes

For Trump, in his dementia, there is no line between his desires, his wishes, and reality. He really believes that his trade war is good for the USA, that incarcerating refugees is a reasonable thing to do, that there were "very fine people" on both sides at Charlottesville. For his followers, Trump provides exculpation of their cruel beliefs. Since the highest official in the land believes them, like the white supremacists who have come out of the woodwork, it's OK for them to believe. He is like an evil genie, granting wishes that rebound on the people who make them.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Brief Note: Why is the USA so bad at recycling?

We started recycling when I was a young bird. 40 years on, we are still burying a huge amount of garbage. It is not that more products could not be reused or recycled. Rather, we have not been willing to mandate that manufacturers spend the money necessary to make more products recyclable.

If we are to prosper in the future, this has to change.

Brief Note: Plastics in an Age without Fossil Fuels

Plastics are a byproduct of fossil fuel refining; they're largely made from what is left over after fuel oils are refined out of crude oil.

My initial notes for this series of posts were written while I was sitting in campsite. I was looking around at a tent and a screen house and various other things that make modern recreational camping possible and realizing that almost all of them are made of petroleum byproducts, all the synthetic textiles, all the plastics that make up the various containers. The main thing that wasn't is the little stove – which uses fossil fuel, it's a propane stove. If we stop using fossil fuels what are we going to replace these materials with?

The answer seems to be, plant-based products. In principle, with enough energy and engineering, any chemical, including any plastic, can be made from any other chemical which contains the right elements, any usable “feedstock” in the language of chemical engineering. In practice, some feedstocks are more suitable than others for particular products. Since the energy for producing plastics from fossil fuels itself comes from the petroleum used to produce the plastics, there is going to a significant increase in the demand for energy to the process. To some extent, this perhaps can be mitigated by using embodied solar energy in appropriately-chosen plants, but this is going to take time to work out.

So there is going to be a generation where we rebuild our base of knowledge and products. Time to get started.

Brief Note: the Costs of Supplementing Green Electricity

One of the chief arguments against building more nuclear facilities is that various forms of renewable energy are less expensive. The problem there is the one that energy researchers are finding; some predictable source of power or long-term large-scale ("grid scale") energy storage technology is necessary. Yet all current designs for grid-scale energy storage are physically large, with extensive environmental impacts, and expensive as well. The cost argument against nuclear power is much weaker when one considers the costs of grid-scale storage.

Some links:
  University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems Grid Energy Storage Fact Sheet
  Stanford's Energy's Grid Scale Storage page.

Brief note: restarting research into nuclear energy

I think we need to reactivate nuclear energy research. The energy industry has the large-scale light water reactor and no interest in doing other designs. These are hard to operate and extremely expensive. But there is utterly no interest in the industry in researching and developing better designs. So it is time to put the nuclear engineers at the national labs back at to work. We also need to pull together and archive the design work from early nuclear power plant design. A lot of that material is buried in reports, probably not even digital form, and it is important to preserve it because we may need it now.

The Green New Deal: Running the Numbers

The technologies definitely exist to meet our 2030 requirement reaching 60% [renewables] by 2030. We think that we have all the technologies in hand to reach 100% carbon-free or 100% clean by 2045, but it's a little bit less clear what that pathway looks like. And the reason is because when you start talking about really high levels of renewable energy generation technologies on the grid, you need to find ways to store that electricity because it's coming from sources like the wind and sun, so it's not coming 24/7 the way something like stored natural gas is. So, there are some unique technical challenges associated with running a grid with very, very high levels of renewables. We are making a lot of progress on figuring out how to run a grid like that, and we are very confident that by 2045, we will be able to get there. – Laura Wisland, interviewed in Union of Concerned Scientists podcast “Got Science: Clean Energy Momentum: From Goals to Gigawatts.” Accessed August 24, 2019.

The Technical Issues

In other words, the technologies we need to make the Green New Deal work do not yet exist. California can provide about 60% of its electricity via renewables. After that, what is needed is technology that can store energy not just for hours and days but for weeks and months. Currently that technology does not exist. It is hoped that it will be available by 2045. Lacking that technology there is large-scale hydroelectric or nuclear energy. There are not many greenhouse gas neutral electric generation technologies.
Laura Wisland is an expert on and advocate for green power with over a decade’s experience. But she must be politic in what she says. I do not need to be, and ravens are supposed to be harsh-voiced, so I will say it plainly: The Green New Deal is not enough. If we believe otherwise, we are deceiving ourselves and putting our nation and perhaps our world at risk
I wrote the Got Science producers on Twitter, and they wrote back with citations. Wisland herself was quoted: “We ‘think’ we can get to 100% carbon free power, but work continues to identify the most cost-effective pathways. E3 (consultant that runs electricity models for the energy agencies in CA) has done some analysis showing that we can get to about 90% and it's that last 10% that is the hardest to decarbonize. SB 100 (the law that created the 100% clean power goal) provides the state with flexibility to decide whether ultimately the power sector will be completely decarbonized or whether it's better to keep a little bit of carbon (gas) on the system to manage cost and reliability issues.”
A very bad mistake was made in the unequivocal opposition to nuclear power on the part of environmentalists. The nuclear plants were not built. Instead, coal and natural gas plants were built, both directly aggravating global climate change and producing the huge pollution and waste of coal and natural gas production and use. Worse still, this set an example for the developing world, with India and China building energy systems heavily relying on coal. Yet the Sanders Green New Deal proposal has the USA shutting down nuclear power plants before the long-term energy storage technology needed to replace them exists.

The Political Issues

The credibility of environmentalism

What is going to happen to environmentalism when the public realizes that they are in part responsible for putting us into this position? The opposition to nuclear power, all the unfounded rumor-mongering all the lies, it played right to the hands of the fossil fuel industries and brought us to crisis more quickly then had we built those nuclear facilities.
This is not to say that nuclear power does not carry real risks, but these were dramatically overplayed by the environmental opposition to nuclear power. Worse still, no comparison with alternatives was done. Voices in the environmental movement who pointed out that coal was in many ways more environmentally troublesome than nuclear power were not heard.
Climate change is not the only environmental problem. The success of humans on earth depends on the human ability to manage our population and use of resources. If the environmental movement loses credibility in one area, we may lose many voices that defend our world and its ecosystems.

Policy Conclusions

My preference would be to roll forward on the Green New Deal, to continue research into the smart grid and long-term energy storage, and also to restart research into nuclear power generation. This seems to me likely, though, to be a counsel of perfection. I fear we are likely to come up short when it is too late to act, and many people will be left, literally, out in the cold, or perhaps the burning heat.


California Public Utilities Commission. “Proposed Preferred System Portfolio for IRP 2017-18: System Analysis and Production Cost Modeling Results.” California Public Utilities Commission, January 11, 2019.
Herman K. Trabish. “Getting to 100% Zero Emissions in California: Beyond CAISO’s Eight-Solution Menu.” Utility Dive, January 3, 2019.