Environment

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While reading Paul Krugman’s excellent piece, Sex & Drugs & the Spill, in the NYT this morning, I came across this comment. It pretty much sums up the way I feel. But it’ll probably take another hundred years, if we make it, before it’s realized in this increasingly right wing country. Thanks, Dim from Texas, whoever you are.

It has become clear that we need much stronger regulations of many industries and to make those regulations work we need a good competent government, I completely agree with you there. When the Soviet Union collapsed this was portrayed as a definitive proof that capitalism, or market economy, is superior to socialism. Of course, Soviet Union was rotten from the inside by over-regulation much much earlier, but events in recent years indicate that market economy is not that superior. Russia was just a wrong country to set an example. If socialism, or even communism, first took root in a country like Germany or Japan the result would have been quite different (no, I didn’t not forget about East Germany which was forced into a soviet type system). I feel Karl Max was right and we will all eventually end up in an economic system that is a healthy hybrid of socialism and market economy. And the role of socialism will be played by strong regulations, channeling the energy of the market economy toward common good, a system which is more fair for all, with checks and balances, not rigged so much to benefit the insiders – Wall Street, corporations, politicians – as it is now.

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They say if an acoustic switch had been available as a third backup, the oil well could have been shut down. Here’s what a commenter, named Kaisersoze, said:

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig lacked a device called an acoustic switch that could have shut off the flow of oil. The remote controlled device sends acoustic impulses through the water that can trigger an underwater valve to shut down the well. All offshore rigs have one main switch to shut off the flow of oil by closing a valve located on the ocean floor. There is also supposed to be a backup, a so-called “dead man,” that will shut down the well in the event of a catastrophe on the rig. Apparently neither of these devices worked on the Deepwater Horizon rig. The crewmembers who would have been closest to the shutoff switch are among those missing and presumed dead. With an acoustic trigger a crew can shut down a well even if the rig is damaged or evacuated. However, BP, which reported profits of $5.598 billion for the first quarter of 2010, vigorously resisted changes to US regulations that would have required acoustic triggers on deep sea rigs, citing effectiveness and costs, about $500,000 per unit. Compliant US regulators agreed, saying other backup plans were sufficient. They called the acoustic triggers unreliable and prone to causing unnecessary shutdowns. However, according to a spokesman for Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority quoted by the Journal, acoustic triggers are “the most successful and effective option.” Norway has used acoustic triggers on almost all its oil rigs since 1993.

Kaisersoze is commenting on the Reuters article, U.S. fights to protect shore from massive oil spill.

But guess who was involved in canceling the acoustic trigger backup? Why none other than our old friend — friend, did I say? — Dick Cheney. See Acoustic trigger costing $500,000 may have prevented oil spill. Here’s the relevant portion from this article: “By 2003, the plan [acoustic trigger backup system] was scrapped after a closed-door meeting with energy company executives conducted by then-Vice President Dick Cheney.”

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Juan Cole always sets me up with cheery news when I read him first thing in the morning. This time it’s about a United Nations Environment Programme study of brown clouds in the atmosphere. These light diminishing clouds stretch from Shanghai to Dubai with various “hot spots” in between. Take a look at the report. It’s pretty impressive. Lots of color maps and data!

So what are the conclusions? Here’s the summary of the findings:
The build-up of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and the resulting global warming pose major environmental threats to Asia’s water and food security. Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, halocarbons and ozone in the lower atmosphere (below about 15 km) are the major gases that are contributing to the increase in the greenhouse effect.

In a similar fashion, increasing amount of soot, sulphates and other aerosol components in atmospheric brown clouds (ABCs) are causing major threats to the water and food security of Asia and have resulted in surface dimming, atmospheric solar heating and soot deposition in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan-Tibetan (HKHT) glaciers and snow packs. These have given rise to major areas of concern, some of the most critical being observed decreases in the Indian summer monsoon rainfall, a north-south shift in rainfall patterns in eastern China, the accelerated retreat of the HKHT glaciers and decrease in snow packs, and the increase in surface ozone. All these have led to negative effects on water resources and crop yields. The emergence of the ABC problem is expected to further aggravate the recent dramatic escalation of food prices and the consequent challenge for survival among the world’s most vulnerable populations. Lastly, the human fatalities from indoor and outdoor exposures to ABC-relevant pollutants have also become a source of grave concern.
So, the ABCs of the ABC problem are extremely serious according to this report. I’m not knowledgeable enough, naturally, to critique it, but even if it’s half true it’s very worrisome. Thanks, Juan. More morning food for thought.

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What is so rare as a day in June late September or October, for then if ever come the greatest days to enjoy and breathe in the great outdoors. Here in Maine we’ve been having the greatest days the past several days. I’ve gotta get back out there and do some real walking/hiking. (I just got through putting up some Lee Goldsberry signs; Lee is running against Ralph Sarty for State Rep for District 99 here in Maine.) There are NO FREAKING BUGS out any more — no mosquitoes, no black flies, no ticks, and great visibility. You can see everywhere, the distant hills and mountains, the colored (or beginning to be colored) foliage, you name it. I’ve gotta take a little break from politicking even in this critical election year. Anybody else wanta go hiking? 😆

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Discovered him again. I’ve always known about the man, the master theoretical physicist calculator who worked with Hans Bethe, an even more profound mathematical theorist of modern physics. But last night when I couldn’t sleep — yet again — I decided to read Dyson’s article in The New York Review of Books on Questions About Global Warming. Aileni had already certainly cautioned me about accepting Al Gore’s views on Global Warming, so I thought I’d tackle this article before hitting the others Aileni links to in Nexus, especially since I’ve been so in awe of Dyson over the years.

In this NYRB article Dyson reviews two books on global warming and provides his own prologue to the piece. In this prologue he shows that there is a rapid (twelve years) exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and vegetation which is very important for the long range future of global warming. Neither of the two books he reviews mentions it, he says. But he devotes considerable space to the book by Nordhaus who concludes that a “low-cost backstop” might provide the best climate policy. However, Nordhaus is reluctant to discuss this in any detail, partly because, as an economist and not a scientist, he does not wish to question the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which considers the science of climate change to be settled.

Dyson shows that the “low-cost backstop” option of Nordhaus has considerable potential in view of the evidence for rapid exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and plants. He considers it likely that genetically engineered carbon-eating trees could be developed within twenty years. These carbon-eating trees would convert the carbon from the atmosphere into root systems which are then buried underground so that the carbon is not returned to the atmosphere. Here is a great potential solution to the problem of reducing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

He spends less time on the book by Zedillo which covers a wider range of topics than the Nordhaus book. This book provides the minority opinions of Richard Lindzner of MIT who answers the question of whether the alarm of global warming is founded on fact with a resounding no. The majority opinions, most dogmatically presented by Howard Dalton of Great Britain, state that urgent action is needed now across the world to avert a major threat to the environment and human society. Dyson clearly questions this view.

After reading the NYRB article, I found an even more fascinating article by Dyson on the subject of climate change in which he goes deeper into his views on the subject. It reads very well and I strongly recommend it to any interested parties.

Finally, I was fortunate this morning to find a wonderful interview with Freeman Dyson by Robert Wright. It’s interesting what he says about religion. To him, religion is a way of life and not a matter of belief. He claims he is a Christian without the theology. What is left of Christianity when you take the theology away?, he is asked. Well almost the whole thing, he says, it’s a community of people in a church who are taking care of each other, and also there’s a great deal of beautiful language and there’s a great deal of music; it’s an art form much more than a philosophy. (Sounds a lot like humanistic UUism!) But he does believe there is some instinct of a mind at work in the universe. Not only that, but quantum physics shows that matter at the micro level is clearly not anything we can have experience of. The mathematical theory works just fine, but the reality of it is quite literally out of our world. He has much to say about the macro level as well. His bottom line is that the universe is filled with enormous mysteries of which we know very little indeed. One such mystery is the almost daily bursts of extremely intense gamma rays from completely unknown origins. But there are countless others. The universe is unimaginably amazing and mysterious.

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ATV Trail

Yesterday I had quite a long walk in the woods. I started at Narramissic Farm, walked about 100 yards in a westerly direction on a cleared farm road, and entered an ATV trail. (Oh, ATV == All Terrain Vehicle.) Then I headed in a northerly direction on the trail and came along side what I call Little Fitch Hill which was covered with more small trees and tangled vines than it had been the last time I was there. This is reasonable. It’s been over a year and we’ve had a lot of rain. But the place looked mysterious and a bit forbidding. I remembered when I climbed up there over three years ago and got those photos of porcupines. Two in one tree:

But I digress. After looking up into the mess of trees and vines for a few moments I walked on along the trail and remembered that it sloped down. Soon I was going downhill past places I had remembered. It was quite beautiful actually, so I snapped a picture of the ATV trail curving downward with the hazy outlines of Pleasant Mountain in the distance:

I kept on walking down, down, and down, past the remains of the ancient road connecting Fessenden Hill Road with Ingalls Road, and on, wondering if I should turn back. But I was curious. So I kept going, finally over a little bridge and up slightly, and then on down to suddenly view the Narrow Gauge Road together with the terminus of Hilton Road. This I was familiar with, having been there a few times before by way of Hilton Road. It was fun being there again and I snapped a picture of the little beaver pond running parallel to Narrow Gauge Road:

But now the task was to return, to walk and scramble up that steep ATV trail to my truck parked at Narramissic. So, I girded my loins, so to speak, and headed on up. I carefully paced myself, stopping frequently to rest in shaded portions of the trail, the sweat running off my face and neck. Before I knew it, there I was, passing familiar places, and finally arriving at a less steep part of the trail, on past Little Fitch Hill and on to the level portion of the trail. I was glad to get back to my truck and drive on home, but I enjoyed the experience, the memories, and the quiet beauty of the day.

Incidentally, this ATV trail proceeds on up beyond Narramissic to the Bear Trap. Perhaps I should get myself an ATV.
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A friend sent me this video showing people signing a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide, a dangerous chemical. Ha Ha It’s water! The idea is to show how gullible people are and especially in the case of environmentally friendly people how eager they are to display passion without using common sense.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yi3erdgVVTw[/youtube]

Of course, this video is created by Penn and Teller, avowed libertarians. See here and here. They are against a lot of things, including gun control, and this video on water has overtones of anti-environmentalism. But you may differ! Please feel free to leave a comment!
😆 😉 😕