Posts tagged ‘Thin Green Line’

Is The Ability To Reality Check Figures A Dead Art?

From the Thin Green Line, an environmental blog I often criticize for it incredible credulity in accepting bizarre figures, comes this whopper:

Is Ganja green? TGL has covered the issue before, but a new study undertaken by a Lawrence Livermore scientist gives us some real numbers (H/T New York Times Green)....

In California, indoor cultivation is responsible for a whopping 8 percent of household electricity usage. But, California grows only about a fifth of the nation's bong hits and much of what we grow goes to out-of-state consumers....

The study, written by Evan Mills on his own (non-government-funded) time, makes the case for legalizing and regulating grow operations, suggesting that if marijuana didn't have to be grown in secret and indoors, efficiency could be improved by as much as 75 percent.

Readers of this blog will know that I am all for marijuana legalization.  But how can anyone accept this figure.  Eight percent?  Really?   This would be larger than the total residential electricity use of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, solely for pot growing in California.  I am calling BS.

California Points Gun At Own Head, Pulls Trigger

From the Thin Green Line:

Earlier today, the California Assembly passed a bill that would oblige state utilities to get a third of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. It is one of the most aggressive standards in the world.

The Senate passed the legislation in February, and Governor Brown is expected to sign the bill.

How big a deal is it? Well, according to Peter Miller, a senior scientist at NRDC, "As a result of the RPS program, renewable energy generation in California in 2020 will be roughly equal to total current U.S. renewable generation, and supply enough clean energy to power nearly 9 million homes" or, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, drive 3 million cars.

This is an absolutely amazing case of wishful thinking.  Note the "will be" in the last paragraph.  Really?  Can I have the other side of that bet?  The California legislature can legislate a unicorn in every garage but that does not mean it will happen by 2020.

Forgetting for a moment the absolutely horrible cost and/or reliability position of most "green" energy technologies, there is no way, absolutely no way, that California can permit and construct a replacement for a third of its electric generation in 9 years.   And I shudder to even think how large of a broken window obsoleting and forcing replacement of a third of electrical generation capacity will be.

A final thought, via Dilbert:

Partial Proof of My Thesis

Several years ago, I offered the following hypothesis to a reporter:

I would argue that the current obsession with small changes to trace levels of CO2 in the atmosphere has in fact gutted the environmental movement.  Nothing else is getting done. ... My prediction– 10-20 years from now, environmentalists are going to look back on the current global warming hysteria as the worst thing ever to happened to the environmental movement.

Here is an example of that effect.  A study comes out that says the following about the health of the Great Lakes:

The Commission is troubled by nearshore eutrophication, aquatic plant growth caused by excessive nutrients, which causes adverse effects on ecosystems, the economy, recreation, and human health.  The reemergence of algal blooms is likely due to multiple factors, including inadequate municipal wastewater and residential septic systems; runoff from increased impervious surface areas and agricultural row-crop areas; discharges from tile drainage which result in more dissolved reactive phosphorus loading; industrial livestock operations; ecosystem changes from invasive mussel species; and impacts from climate change which include warmer water and more frequent and intense precipitation and stormwater events.

Of these listed potential causes, only the last, climate change, is not addressed at all in the main study document, nor is addressing climate change on their list of recommendations, which in fact emphasize that solutions tend to be local.   In fact the tone of the study is that the causes are complex and poorly understood, but never again beyond this sentence is climate change mentioned or any evidence of increased precipitation or runoff presented.

One is left with the impression it was a toss-in on the list, included because climate change is "hot" and sexy and a magnet for funding and attention.  Certainly the report provides no other evidence or detail as to why it is included in the list.  Certainly any intelligent reader would understand that the climate change item was, at best, included to round out the possibilities of a complex and poorly understood problem, but that the study points to many of the other items on the list as more productive places to seek solutions.

So, given this, what do environmental reporters pick up?  Here is the headline environmental reporter Cameron Scott uses on his SFGate blog "the Thin Green Line":

Climate change threatens Great Lakes

Yep, he latched on to the last, least important item that is completely un-adressed by the main report.  By doing so, he is in effect helping to distract attention from the real causes that can be addressed and diverting attention to issues that are tangential at best.  The solution will likely involve better managing agricultural runoffs and dealing with municipal wastewater plants which are under-treating discharges.

This is why I say that the global warming hysteria will be looked back on as a dead time for the environmental movement, when obsession with trace amounts of CO2 either caused folks to lose attention on important issues, or even caused environmentalists to advocate for ecologically detrimental programs (e.g. biofuels).

Rent-Seeking Gold Rush

The Thin Green Line reports that Renault recently fired a number of employees for espionage related to electric vehicles.  The site concludes:

The stakes are high: The French automaker, now partnered with Nissan, is betting its future on the popularity of the electric vehicle. It plans to introduce no fewer than three electric cars in Europe this year: a sedan, a light commercial vehicle, and a city car.

Unless the espionage thwarts its plans, Renault's gamble is probably a good one. Also last week, the judges of the Detroit auto show gave all their top awards to EVs and hybrids — proof, according the Guardian, that "analysts [are] bet[ting] on rising oil prices and wider acceptance of electric cars." Nissan's Leaf took second place to the Chevy Volt.

As I wrote in the comments, electric cars are a huge opportunity - there are tens of billions of dollars of corporate welfare from countries around the world to be captured. When it is the Left that is actively supporting huge transfers of funds from taxpayers to large corporations, that is an unprecedented rent-seeking opportunity that European companies, already well-schooled in how to be successful within a corporate state, are sure to avidly pursue. Not since corn ethanol has there been a similar gold-rush for taxpayer funds.

Did Your SUV Cause the Haiti Earthquake?

The other day, environmental blog the Thin Green Line wrote:

At the American Geophysical Union meeting late last month, University of Miami geologist Shimon Wdowinski argued that the devastating earthquake a year ago may have been caused by a combination of deforestation and hurricanes (H/T Treehugger). Climate change is spurring more, stronger hurricanes, which are fueled by warm ocean waters....

The 2010 disaster stemmed from a vertical slippage, not the horizontal movements that most of the region's quakes entail, supporting the hypothesis that the movement was triggered by an imbalance created when eroded land mass was moved from the mountainous epicenter to the Leogane Delta.

I have heard this theory before, that landslides and other surface changes can trigger earthquakes.  Now, I am not expert on geology -- it is one of those subjects that always seems like it would be interesting to me but puts me in a coma as soon as I dive into it.   I almost failed a pass-fail geology course in college because in the mineral identification section, all I could think to say was "that's a rock."

However, I do know enough to say with some confidence that surface land changes may have triggered but did not cause the earthquake.  Earthquakes come from large releases of stored energy, often between plates and faults.  It's remotely possible land surface changes trigger some of these releases, but in general I would presume the releases would happen at some point anyway.  (Steven Goddard points out the quake was 13km below the surface, and says "It is amazing that anyone with a scientific background could attempt to blame it on surface conditions.")

The bit I wanted to tackle was the Thin Green Line's statement that "Climate change is spurring more, stronger hurricanes."   This is a fascinating statement I want to attack from several angles.

First, at one level it is a mere tautology.  If we are getting more hurricanes, then by definition the climate has changed.   This is exactly why "global warming" was rebranded into "climate change," because at some level, the climate is always changing.

Second, the statement is part of a fairly interesting debate on whether global warming in general will cause more hurricanes.  Certainly hurricanes get their power from warm water in the oceans, so it is not unreasonable to hypothesize that warmer water would lead to more, stronger hurricanes.  It turns out the question, as are most all questions in the complex climate, is more complicated than that.  It may be hurricanes are driven more by temperature gradients, rather than absolute temperatures, such that a general warming may or may not have an effect on their frequency.

Third, the statement in question, as worded, is demonstrably wrong.  If he had said "may someday spur more hurricanes," he might have been OK, but he said that climate change, and by that he means global warming, is spurring more hurricanes right now.

Here is what is actually happening (paragraph breaks added)

2010 is in the books: Global Tropical Cyclone Accumulated Cyclone Energy [ACE] remains lowest in at least three decades, and expected to decrease even further... For the calendar year 2010, a total of 46 tropical cyclones of tropical storm force developed in the Northern Hemisphere, the fewest since 1977. Of those 46, 26 attained hurricane strength (> 64 knots) and 13 became major hurricanes (> 96 knots).

Even with the expected active 2010 North Atlantic hurricane season, which accounts on average for about 1/5 of global annual hurricane output, the rest of the global tropics has been historically quiet. For the calendar-year 2010, there were 66-tropical cyclones globally, the fewest in the reliable record (since at least 1970) The Western North Pacific in 2010 had 8-Typhoons, the fewest in at least 65-years of records. Closer to the US mainland, the Eastern North Pacific off the coast of Mexico out to Hawaii uncorked a grand total of 8 tropical storms of which 3 became hurricanes, the fewest number of hurricanes since at least 1970.

Global, Northern Hemisphere, and Southern Hemisphere Tropical Cyclone Accumulated Energy (ACE) remain at decades-low levels.

The source link has more, and graphs of ACE over the last several decades (ACE is a sort of integral, combining the time-average-strength of all hurricanes during the year.  This is a better metric than mere counts and certainly better than landfall or property damage metrics).

So, normally I would argue with alarmists that correlation is not causation.   There is no point in arguing about causation, though, because the event he claims to have happened (more and stronger hurricanes) did not even happen.  The only way he could possibly argue it (though I am pretty sure he has never actually looked at the hurricane data and simply works from conventional wisdom in the global warming echo chamber) is to say that yes, 2010 was 40-year low in hurricanes, but it would have been even lower had it not been for global warming.  This is the Obama stimulus logic, and is just as unsupportable here as it was in that context.

Postscript: By the way, 2010 was probably the second warmest year in the last 30-40 years and likely one of the 5-10 warmest in the last century, so if warming was going to be a direct cause of hurricanes, it would have been in 2010.    And yes, El Ninos and La Ninas and such make it all more complicated.  Exactly.  See this post.

Environmentalists Praising Use of Coal

From environmental blog the Thin Green Line:

McDonald's has been a frequent target on this blog, and many others related to health and environmental issues. But mark it on your calendar: This post is in praise of Micky D's, for installing EV charging stations at a new West Virginia location.

Yes, it's just about the strangest place you could pick, given that the Huntington, WV, location is not on a throughway connecting EV early-adopter towns like New York, D.C., or San Francisco. The location clearly has more to do with its proximity to partner American Electric Power's Columbus, Ohio, headquarters "” but we'll give kudos where kudos are due. With 58 million people eating at McDonald's everyday, the burger chain isn't a bad spot to enable electric vehicle drivers to charge up.

99% of West Virginia's electricity comes from coal, so its interesting to see environmentalists championing the switch from gasoline to coal.  Notwithstanding the fact that the fossil fuel use of electric vehicles is being grossly under-estimated, charging up your EV in WV is a great way to take positive steps to increase your CO2 footprint.

Help Help, We Are All Going to Die! Oh, Wait, Never Mind

I don't know why I have so much fun fact checking the "science" at green blog "the Thin Green Line," but I do.  Today's exercise:

There are, right now, at least half a million pieces of junk in orbit around our cosmic Pig Pen of a planet. Space junk isn't just an aesthetic problem, either: Even tiny pieces of junk orbit at speeds above 15,000 miles per hour, so even the tiniest bit of debris can cause serious damage to anything it comes into contact with. Space junk threatens satellites, manned space missions and even the International Space Station.

While certainly space junk can be a problem in certain instances, I am constantly left helpless with laughter at the absolute urgency this type of blog approaches every problem.  Here are a couple of things that might help you sleep better at night:

  • The speed space junk is traveling is largely irrelevant.  It could be 15,000 mph or 50,000.  The important variable is the closing speed of two objects, not their absolute speed.  And (thanks to our friend Newton) we know that objects in the same stable orbits have to be moving at the same speed.  Now, orbits don't all have to parallel and can cross, yielding real relative velocities, but recognize that since over 95% of these half million objects are less than 4 inches in diameter, its a bit like you and your friends firing guns and having the bullets meet in mid-air.
  • The drawing he shows makes the sky seem really cluttered.  But let's just take a small portion of this space.  Let's consider the volume of space between 100 and 500 miles above the Earth's surface.  Using a bit of geometry, this space works out to be 93 trillion cubic miles of volume.  Which means one object, generally less than 4 inches in diameter, in space per every 186,000 cubic miles, which for scale is the equivalent volume to a building 40 stories tall that covers the entire continental United States.

Certainly avoiding these objects is a navigation concern for powered spacecraft, which is why all these pieces of junk are watched in the first place.  But the idea of a space superfund to clean this stuff up is so hilariously expensive (given current tech) and such a staggering waste of resources compared to other uses of those funds that one would only expect to find it on, well, an environmental blog.

Example of Why Climate Science is Becoming a Laughingstock

From the Thin Green Line, a reliable source for any absurd science that supports environmental alarmism:

Sending and receiving email makes up a full percent of a relatively green person's annual carbon emissions, the equivalent of driving 200 miles.
Dealing with spam, however, accounts for more than a fifth of the average account holder's electricity use. Spam makes up a shocking 80 percent of all emails sent, but most people get rid of them as fast as you can say "delete."
So how does email stack up to snail mail? The per-message carbon cost of email is just 1/60th of the old-fashioned letter's. But think about it "” you probably send at least 60 times as many emails a year than you ever did letters.

One way to go greener then is to avoid sending a bunch of short emails and instead build a longer message before you send it.

This is simply hilarious, and reminds me of the things the engineers would fool the pointy-haired boss with in Dilbert.  Here was my response:

This is exactly the kind of garbage analysis that is making the environmental movement a laughing stock.

In computing the carbon footprint of email, the vast majority of the energy in the study was taking the amount of energy used by a PC during email use (ie checking, deleting, sending, organizing) and dividing it by the number of emails sent or processed. The number of emails is virtually irrelevant -- it is the time spent on the computer that matters. So futzing around trying to craft one longer email from many shorter emails does nothing, and probably consumers more energy if it takes longer to write than the five short emails.

This is exactly the kind of peril that results from a) reacting to the press release of a study without understanding its methodology (or the underlying science) and b) focusing improvement efforts on the wrong metrics.

The way to save power is to use your computer less, and to shut it down when not in use rather than leaving it on standby.

If one wants to argue that the energy is from actually firing the bits over the web, this is absurd. Even if this had a measurable energy impact, given the very few bytes in an email, reducing your web surfing by one page a day would keep more bytes from moving than completely giving up email.

By the way, the suggestion for an email charge in the linked article is one I have made for years, though the amount is too high. A charge of even 1/100 cent per email would cost each of us about a penny per day but would cost a 10 million mail spammer $1000, probably higher than his or her expected yield from the spam.

How Can You Argue with Logic Like This?

From the Thin Green Line:

So much for criticism that California's environmental leadership "” notably AB 32 "” kills jobs: The state has the most green-collar jobs of any in the nation, and San Francisco leads the Golden State with 42,000 positions. For a city with a population of 809,000, that's pretty impressive.

I think of my father-in-law when I read something like this.  He was a lifelong environmentalist as well as a PHD physicist and a researcher at MIT's Lincoln Labs.  While we often disagreed on various issues, he always tried to bring both science and the scientific method to environmental issues.  I wonder what he would think about this bozo.

Not that this quote really deserves further attention, but here are a couple of random thoughts:

  • While AB32 has been law for a number of years, the CARB has made only limited progress actually setting up the enabling regulations and carbon trading schemes.  In effect, AB32 is largely un-implemented at this point, making its lack of effect on job growth fairly unsurprising
  • Wow, what a surprise -- the state with the largest number of workers has the largest number of workers in a particular employment category.  My guess is they have the most car mechanics in the country too, and the most SUV owners.  So what?
  • The whole definition of a "Green collar job" is total BS.  Basically it means you work in a job that has been deemed to be in a politically correct energy related field.  But why are solar executives green jobs but hydro plant workers not?
  • The implication in the post is that this is some kind of public policy victory, but of course there is no evidence at all of why these jobs exist or are located in California
  • Even if these jobs are the result of some kind of California public policy initiative, how much did they cost?  How many jobs were lost when the government shifted resources around by fiat?  In Spain, its been calculated that more than 2 jobs were lost for every green job created.

There used to be a joke in Texas during the 80's oil bust -- "How do you make a million dollars in oil?  Start with $10 million."  The same likely applies here -- "How do you create 42,000 green jobs?  Start with 100,000."

The Technocratic Standard-Setting Urge

The Thin Green Line writes:

But other problems have such a straightforward solution the only question is, why haven't we implemented it already?So it is with the phone charger (H/T Mother Jones). How many old ones do you have kicking around in a drawer? If you're loyal to a particular phone, you may even have several identical chargers. Because they're electronic, you're also burdened with disposing of them properly lest they leach their toxins into some poor, unsuspecting landfill.

Not only that but chargers use a good bit more electricity than they need to and are vampires"”meaning they continue to draw power even when they're not, you know, charging.

Now imagine a world where not only did phone chargers use less energy, but they were universal, meaning any charger fit any phone. That would mean about 600 million fewer chargers each year stashed in drawers around the world and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 24 million tons a year"”not even to mention e-waste.

The UN's International Telecommunication Union has approved this universal dreamboat of a charger. It will use half as much energy on standby. Samsung, Nokia and Motorola have already agreed to use it. Of course, they're hemorrhaging business to BlackBerry and word yet from those guys.

I wrote:

There are at least two problems with this.  The first is that consumers are all different.   A lot of cell phones (and other devices like my kindle) are standardizing on a mini-USB connection.  Should I use the UN's solution, which is likely inferior?  Why?  Most of the time I don't even travel with a charger, I plug the mini-USB into my computer to charge.  That way I only have 1 charger on the road, for my computer.  You want me to carry 2, in the name of having fewer chargers?   You might say, "well, I hadn't thought of this situation," and I would say, "that's the point - you can't, there are 6 billion of us individuals out there."

The second problem is innovation.  Who says that innovation won't demand a different type of connection in 2 years?  Do you really want your technology gated to some working group at the UN?  Go back in time and imagine the government locking in a standard on something.  We still would have 801.11a wireless only, or cars would still all have crank starts (but they would all turn the same direction!) or cars would all have the same size wheels.  If the UN had invented something 3 years ago, it would have been power only and not data.  Today, most cell phones have power connections and connectors that double as data ports.

There is always a technocratic urge in messy changing technology markets to swoop in and mandate a standard from above, even while the technology is still evolving.  The problem is that neither you nor anyone else knows everything.  Hayek described this information problem well but you make it abundantly clear on this site you have no familiarity with Hayek.  You extrapolate what seems to be a good solution from your narrow knowledge, but cause many of us to sub-optimize because you did not anticipate how I use my charger or what technology some cell phone manufacturer today may be developing that requires a different kind of charger standard.

Update on Rail Subsidies

As an update on my rail subsidy post, I saw a relevant post from the Thin Green Line yesterday.  At least, I suppose, transit supporters are honest:

When I talked to Dave Snyder earlier this month about a fix for mass transit in the Bay Area, he told me, "Somehow or another we've got to get more money from driving."

However, I thought this was a hilarious lack of perspective: side effect of the green revolution has been a growing awareness of how much roads cost. I imagine you'd be surprised to learn that building a road"”not maintaining it, just building it"”costs more than $16 per square foot.

I have no doubt that this person, who is a strong light rail supporter, honestly thinks this is a lot of money.  But I did the math in my comments on his post:

$16 per square foot for highway should be considered a bargain. This means that a twenty foot wide two-lane highway is $320 per linear foot.

The Phoenix light rail system cost $1.4 billion (thats building it, not maintaining it) for 20 miles, which at 34,000 boardings per week day is carrying somewhat less traffic than the capacity of a two lane highway. However, it cost $13,258 per linear foot, or 41 times your highway numbers. Which is why highway users easily pay the full cost of their transportation infrastructure through their gas taxes, but transit users don't even come close.

In Phoenix, light rail fare revenues cover only 7% of its operating and capital costs. Which always has me scratching my head when people say light rail is somehow more "sustainable." If running trains requires, as you suggest, draining resources from millions of people just to move thousands, how is it sustainable?

Update on Government Salaries

Over 700 employees of San Francisco's BART transit agency make over $100,000 just in cash wages.  This does not include lucrative benefits that probably add $30,000 or more to total compensation for most employees.  (SF Chron, via Thin Green Line)

You Guys Are Losers Because You Are Not Paying For My Stuff

The Thin Green Line has been running a series of articles complaining about price increases and service cuts at the local MTA.  I will leave aside for today the critique I have been putting in the comment section of that blog, which is that if you really care about transit service for the working poor, then you never should have started down the light rail path in the first place.  Light rail is an expensive yuppie toy that inevitably, through its high costs and continuing capital requirements, starves money from the bus services that the working poor actually depend on.

But anyway, I thought it was endemic of a certain type of political outlook that the author could write this with a totally straight face:

Also problematic is that the MTA did not hit drivers and riders equally [with proposed fee and fair increases].

Wow!  You mean a price increase for a service does not hit users and non-users of that service equally?  On what planet does one have to live on to believe that they should?