Archive for April, 2006

Politicians in Denial

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

The ever respectful Dana Milbank covers the issue of fuel economy and politician’s cars. Surprisingly, these politicians use their cars to go distances of 1 – 2 blocks, and their aides keep the cars idling meanwhile. To keep the air conditioning on? Doesn’t DC have air pollution? When you drive 30 minutes, 90% of the pollution is produced in the first minute or two.

Both California senators come in at under 20 mpg.

Actual mileage may be 10 – 30% lower than EPA calculations.

Another Washington Post article examines which fuel economy tips help and which make little difference. Not surprisingly, lower speeds and more moderate accelerations are the big winners. Not listed, but important to our legislators, both idling and short trips also reduce fuel economy.

Lots of comments on gasoline prices, I will respond and post more as time permits.

Gasoline Prices

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

The price of gasoline is rising rapidly while Republicans in power, so we hear Democrats attacking. What could bring down the price of gasoline?

A rapid decrease in gasoline consumption, because supplies are inelastic, would lead to decrease in prices. Oops, forget that option. A rapid decrease in tensions with Iran and decrease in hostilities in Iraq and more confidence that the government and the people in various oil supplying countries will find a way to get along. Not on the table for the immediate future.

Water and War

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

For a fascinating look at the history of water conflict, check out the Pacific Institute’s 5000 year chronology.

Peter Gleick was one of the speakers at today’s BioForum presentation at the Oakland Museum. I will post more about what was said when I get a chunk of time.

Comments that go beyond nays and praise

Pat reacts to a post on biofuels by suggesting a book, “All Flesh is Grass,” by Gene Logsdon, which apparently addresses land use.

After Emily Messner at The Debate linked to one of mine on radioactivity, two people left comments. Dr. Amme said more about hormesis. He also said something about hydrogen for fuel cells being made from nuclear power — it’s not the electricity but the heat that can be expected to create hydrogen molecules. I asked him for more information, and he left it as a comment to another post.

I don’t know enough about this subject to know if people are very sure or somewhat sure or cautiously optimistic about the role nuclear power can play. I do know that some people are cautiously optimistic on the mid-term (decades) role of fuel cells, while some are pessimistic. Creating the hydrogen is just one of the obstacles to overcome.

Jim also left a comment on the radioactivity post. He believes that US testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific Islands led to “jellyfish” babies. I have heard this before, but it would be surprising if true. All attempts to find birth defects resulting from the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombing have not succeeded, and their exposures were much higher. There may be many reasons why the US should not have tested weapons in the Pacific Islands, without creating extra reasons.

Radioactivity at high doses can kill. Evidence that it kills at low doses has not been strong.

Tori said on the My Life Without a Car guest post that she wants more sidewalks and train stations. I’ve heard that many new suburban developments don’t have sidewalks, is that true?

Media discussion of nuclear power

Monday, April 17th, 2006

Emily Messner, who hosted a discussion of climate change a while back, is devoting this week’s discussion to nuclear power.

Going Nuclear

Saturday, April 15th, 2006

In tomorrow’s Washington Post, Patrick Moore makes the case for going nuclear.

Basically, the choices for baseload plants [those on most of the time, contrasted to peak load plants, turned on when the air conditioning and electric stoves are being cranked up] are hydroelectric, coal, and nuclear. Hydroelectric power is maxed out [and may decrease due to climate change over the lifetime of power plants being built today].

Moore’s other arguments:

Dying for Water

Friday, April 14th, 2006

In today’s Washington Post article, the heartrending Dying for Water in Somalia’s Drought, Emily Wax describes conflict over water in a country lacking an effective government, conflict that has left 250 dead in 2 years. (See the related photographs as well.)

A USAID site lists these facts about water:

• The lack of clean water kills almost 4,500 children per day

• Every day in Africa, women and girls especially, walk as many as 6 miles to fetch water

• Rapid urbanization is leading to increased pressure on water resources

• The world will require 55 percent more food by 2030, increasing the demand for irrigation which already accounts for 70 percent of all freshwater used by humans.

Water problems will worsen in the immediate future. First, few countries are tackling their water problems, even in the first world. California has an enormous investment in agriculture, yet salinity is increasing and groundwater is being depleted.

Additionally, climate change may increase precipitation in some areas, increasing floods, but in most areas the soil will be dryer, and within decades, irrigation will be introduced into areas that have grown food without for hundreds of years (the US breadbasket, east of the Missouri) or longer. And climate change may shift us into quasi-permanent El Nino conditions, which will increase drought in Africa and Australia. In many areas, precipitation patterns may include more intense rain on fewer days.

There are some promising water trends in some areas of the world, but the overall direction is discouraging.

Update The death of 250 Somalis in the last two years is from the fights over just one well. (Thanks, Ruth.)

Climate Change class begins April 25 in Berkeley

Thursday, April 13th, 2006

Tuesdays 1 – 3 PM, April 25 – June 7

A free 7-week class will examine questions on how important and rapid climate change will be, what kinds of policy changes are needed, and how quickly we must respond. First we’ll begin with the science and the expected impacts in many regions of the world. Then we’ll look at our own behavior in order to understand policy options. This short class will give an overview sufficient to understand the various aspects of an enormous problem facing us.

April 25 Building a greenhouse, what’s in store for California?
May 2 Working with spectroscopes, warming in the Arctic
May 9 What are scientists saying about climate change? Changes in the oceans
May 16 Looking at our own carbon emissions in order to understand policy, beginning the policy discussion
May 23 Policy continued
May 30 Many scientists are warning that big changes are imminent: what changes, how soon, and what can be done
June 7 Changes in the rain forest, Wrap up

North Berkeley Senior Center 1901 Hearst Ave at ML King in Berkeley
Tuesdays 1 – 3 PM
Call 981-5190 for more information

If you have a question, leave it as a comment

Climate Change curricula

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

What good curriculum can you recommend?

One high school assignment assigns a newspaper article (there are four) on the connection between global warming and hurricanes, and asks questions to help students sort through what is said, how valid it is, and what information is missing.

I heard second hand from a second grade teacher who is looking for climate change material. What can you recommend? My experience is with preteens to adults.

Would students that age be interested in looking up information on animals (and plants?). What is happening to the polar bear and to coral reefs, and why did the golden toad go extinct?

Does this incessant CA rain come from global warming?

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

I’ve been asked this a couple of times, and my answer is best summed up as “I don’t know.”

First: is this incessant rain (by northern California standards) climate change? While many areas in northern California broke March records for numbers of days of rain or/and the amount of rain (and it’s still raining), would the rain have looked less impressive if we had compared 31 day periods that center on March, such as February 25 to March 28? Dunno

If this is climate change, is it because of global warming?

Another dunno. Climate models predict that the type of weather we call normal will shift, or in some cases, change precipitously (Alaska’s several degree warming in the last 50 years almost all occurred in 1977). These models also predict that deviations from the new normal will be more extreme than has been true in recent years.

Does anyone know more about this?

Do any of the readers live in areas where the climate definitely is changing?

Biofuels and Land Use Problems

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

A recent report from Natural Resources Defense Council and Union of Concerned Scientists, Nathanael Greene’s Growing Energy: How Biofuels Can Help End America’s Oil Dependence (pdf), shows both the excitement of a new technology and how easy it is to overestimate the advantages.

Rebound Effect from Better Mileage

Saturday, April 8th, 2006

Raising the Corporate Average Fleet Economy (CAFE) standards appears to have a 10 – 20% rebound effect – as gas mileage improves, some of the fuel and greenhouse gas savings is lost to increased driving. (See Effectiveness and Impact of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards)

The rebound effect in Europe is 20 – 30%.

That’s the figure obtained when trying to separate out various different effects across a continent. Diesel cars in Europe get better mileage than gasoline cars, and diesel is cheaper than gasoline there. (Back in the 1970s, the price of oil went up quickly, what with OPEC and Iran. When the price of oil came down, the Europeans left the prices of gasoline and diesel high, taxing them became a major source of revenue. The price of diesel did come down some to please the truckers. Today, diesel is about $1/gallon cheaper than gasoline.)

Lee Schipper, et al, found that diesel drivers use more fuel and emit more greenhouse gases than do drivers of gasoline cars. As noted, 20 – 30% is because of the rebound effect, perhaps a larger portion can be attributed to lower diesel prices, some because long distance drivers self-select for diesel, and some because people with two or more vehicles will use the cheapest for long distance trips.

It’s like treading water. How about if we improve gas mileage and increase fuel taxes? We’re going to have to raise taxes anyway, so why not raise taxes on fuels?

Your suggestions?

More explanation There are two rebound effects: buying a more or less fuel efficient car as fuel prices change, and driving more or fewer miles after buying the new car. The 20 – 30% figure is the change in driving behavior with the new car if only the improved mileage is taken into account. Europeans, from a number of countries with a number of pricing schemes, switching from petrol to diesel increased their yearly distances from 16,000 km to 19,500 km, a 22% increase. People switching from diesel to petrol reduced driving distances from 21,000 km to 15,000 km, a 29% decrease. These changes appear to correlate with the change in fuel costs, including better fuel mileage, as few simultaneously made other changes such as moving to or from the city. The diesel gets about 26% better fuel mileage than does the petrol car, so the shift in behavior to diesel cuts the reductions in fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by 85%. Of that 85%, some 20 – 30% appears to come from improved mileage and the rest from the lower prices of diesel. The price of diesel is being raised across Europe.

The assumption is that Europeans show a greater change in behavior with changing efficiency because they have public transit as an option—Americans are choosing between one car and another, while Europeans are choosing between public transit and cars with a range of fuel economies.

California’s Climate Change Plan – the Why

Friday, April 7th, 2006

In December 2005, the California EPA sent an Energy Policy Report to the Governor and Legislature. This plan, now being discussed, recommends

  • By 2010, reduce emissions to 2000 levels, a 59 million tons reduction, 11% below Business as Usual
  • By 2020, reduce emissions to 1990 levels, a 145 million tons reduction, 25% below Business as Usual
  • By 2050, reduce emissions to 80% below 1990 levels
  • (more…)