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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Res ipsa loquitur

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe. 

Apropos of this (and, sadly, of this), we have this from Gallup, finding that one in four Americans are "solidly skeptical" of global climate disruption

And then there's this, baldly illustrating the dysfunctional - and when it comes to climate, borderline suicidal - politics of the right.

Both Gallup's and The National Journal's analyses are illuminating, if depressing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day 2014

I wrote this on Earth Day 2013.

I'm not sure I have much to add a year later.  Certainly, not much has changed on a global scale, except the increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and the ever-more-urgent dittoing

We know what we we need to do. Indeed, the economic impact of those actions would be surprisingly small.  The logic behind a clean energy policy is not hard to understand.  The Obama Administration gets it - it has done more on climate and renewable energy than all of its predecessors combined, without the credit that those moves deserve.

Still, public opinion on the urgency of tackling climate disruption lagsIdeology blinds. And the frog continues to slowly boil.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Boston (personal)

I wish that I was in Boston today.

A year and a week ago (on April 15, 2013), I ran the Boston Marathon for the second time. Four minutes after I finished, and moments after the finisher's medal was hung around my neck by a smiling volunteer, the bombs went off - one after the other - and the nightmare began.

I'll never forget the sound of those detonations, about 12 seconds apart.

I can still hear the crashing as the tables that were laden with food, water, and medals in the finish area were tossed aside to make way for emergency vehicles.

I can still hear the sirens, wailing out the city's shock and pain. 

I still feel the echoes of the heartache and angst that began moments after the finisher's medal was placed around my neck.

Today, we remember the lives lost, and those that were forever changed. We remember, too, the loss of innocence. 

But "Boston Strong" rose in its place in a powerful way that continues to inspire.

Today, the joy will be reclaimed.

This morning, the hallowed road from Hopkinton to Boston will be filled with 36,000 runners of every description, and their route will be lined with a million wonderful people cheering their lungs out for every single one of them, as they always do.  Maybe even a little louder, if that's possible.  I know it will be a glorious, triumphant, and cathartic marathon for every runner, every spectator, every wonderful volunteer, every vigilant public servant, for the great organizers, and for a city that I love

I wish that I was in Boston today. But my heart is there. And a piece of it always will be.

Friday, April 18, 2014

IPCC on natgas, CCS

The IPCC's new report on climate change mitigation makes some pretty clear statements about the changes that will have to be made to our energy mix - starting now - if we want to avoid climate disaster.

There are five key takeaways on energy supply in its Summary for Policymakers:
  1. Low- or no-carbon electricity (renewables, nuclear, and CCS-equipped fossil fuel plants) must increase from the current share of 30% to more than 80% by 2050.
  2. Fossil fueled power plants without CCS must be phased out entirely by 2100.
  3. Switching power plants from coal to natural gas can reduce GHG emissions "significantly" in the short term - if methane emissions are "low or mitigated." That's a big - and growing - "if." But any growth in natgas-fired power plants must reverse itself and fall below current levels by 2050, and be phased out by 2100. (See #2.) Natgas-fired electricity has a future only with CCS.
  4. Bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) could provide "large-scale" net negative emissions power, but the large-scale use of biomass is both a "challenge" and a "risk." Big ones, I think.
  5. Any way you slice it, CCS is an essential technology.
Is the world capable of demanding and making these changes - in time?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Carbon negative biomass energy? Not so fast.

The recent release of the latest IPCC report on climate disruption mitigation has attracted some attention for the potential – if not likely – need, given our unrelenting increase in carbon pollution, to turn to a suite of unproven technologies that are theoretically designed to be carbon-negative. Those technologies would, proponents claim, actually suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. One of these technologies is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

BECCS may work in Australia, according to one study. But could it work elsewhere? Is it sustainable? Could the natural resource base - forests that are harvested and other lands that are converted to biofuel crops - support BECCS without further ecological harm? Could trees be burned for fuel on industrial scale without hurting forest health or the ability of forests to regenerate?

Not, at least, in Penn's Woods.

When I was in state service at DCNR, I led the development of a carbon management plan for Pennsylvania (issued in 2008, and since removed - along with a large number of other carbon/climate-related documents - from the DCNR website, in a move that speaks volumes about the ideology of the current Administration). I also represented Governor Ed Rendell on the Chesapeake Bay Biofuels Advisory Panel, which did excellent work. 

The DCNR carbon plan looked in detail at the issue of biomass energy. It found: 
Under the most optimistic available projections for annual sustainable biomass supply (6 million tons/ year statewide), if all of that supply was harvested (ignoring availability and accessibility issues) and was used for electricity production, using in-state biomass for this option will offset 13% of existing electricity demand in PA. Similarly, if all of the estimated sustainable biomass supply (6 million tons/ year) was used for cellulosic ethanol production, 6% of PA‘s annual transportation fuel demand would likely be met with ethanol produced in-state. 
The Commonwealth’s biomass resources and the potential sources of plantation biomass are diffused over a large patchwork landscape. Estimates of total biomass volume based on sustainability are likely to prove optimistic when accounting for management limitations and economic considerations (transportation, fuel costs, access, competing markets for low-value wood). 
Market forces will determine the availability of wood and the impact on competing uses and users. The data...strongly suggest that the sustainability of large-scale operations that require huge volumes of feedstock annually is far from certain.  However, a large group of locally focused/financed small projects spread widely across the Commonwealth could capture both the value of replacing high-cost fuel imports and significant carbon benefits while also limiting transportation costs of the feedstock. A local energy generation model has potential to allow displacement of significant quantities of current or projected fossil carbon emissions across a broad spectrum of users – industry, public institutions, commercial offices, and multi-family buildings – through reduced electrically-driven cooling, replacement of fossil fuel-based heat, and distributed generation of electricity through combined heat and power facilities. 
Such an approach offers significant possibilities for decentralized, economically and environmentally sustainable rural economic development through community-based independent power production. Further, small-scale projects, when deployed across the Commonwealth, can cumulatively provide significant emissions offsets that are at least comparable to those that may be afforded by a lesser number of large-scale projects (e.g. cellulosic ethanol utilizing forest resources) while providing considerable co-benefits – energy independence (keeping energy dollars very local), taxpayer savings, rural economic opportunity, maximizing carbon sequestration in the local forests, and improved water quality, habitat and biodiversity. A detailed analysis of this model is beyond the work of [this report], but the concept merits serious consideration for policymakers, communities, energy practitioners, and energy users. 

In essence, even with the development of plantations of short rotation woody crops to supplement forest harvesting, in a heavily-forested state like Pennsylvania, large-scale BECCS to replace current fossil-fueled generation capacity would almost certainly lead to large scale deforestation. We must grow - not harvest - the lungs of the planet. Forests are not fuel. And when it comes to biomass energy – with or without CCS – small is beautiful.