Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Power Outage

We are finally getting electricity again after three and one half days.  An extremely heavy snowstorm (heavy as in wet and clingy snow)  caused hundreds of trees to fall in the area.  Living without the power company wasn't too bad, but this was combined with fighting to clear snow with a blower and shovels for five days.  We did better than many in town because we have wood heat with a hot water loop in the stove.  Our old RV has a propane cooking stove, and I even ran a couple of lights with a 400 watt inverter on the car battery.  That was expensive power.  Anyone know how much gas a Camry burns if you idle it for one hour?   The city water here is basically gravity flow so that wasn't a problem.  However, our neighbors are still on a well, and had to fill jugs from our hydrant near their house.  We are expecting another major storm Monday.   I am definitely feeling my age.  Size D batteries are hardly used for anything except heavy duty flashlights and lanterns now.  Guess which size the stores run out of in an outage?  The alarm clocks with the digital readout and the 9 volt battery backups are battery hogs.  They went from new battery to low battery and didn't even tell us the time during the outage.  They just kept track so they could show the right time 80 hours later when we got juice. back.  The kind that just runs on two AA batteries with no cord would probably be better, especiallly for a place with frequent outages like Mount Shasta.  You need an alarm because there are only 10 hours of daylight this time of year, and lots of work to do. 
Why didn't I get my snowblower tuned up before the storm?  It has an idling problem and goes dead frequently.  Plus I broke the starter cord two hours before we got power back to use the electric starter.   And I didn't get the winter tires on the pickup in time.  The chains won't fit the summer tires.   One of this summer's projects has got to be widening the driveway at the street for a level parking spot.  We can't always count on keeping our 400 foot driveway clear of snow. 
We have about 10 down trees on our acre to clear out, including oaks and introduced Leyland Cypress.  Fortunately, nothing hit the house, garage, or greenhouse.  Lost half of the black walnut tree.  Actuallly, there are plenty of walnuts in town to scavenge.  I'm going to have to rebuild the animal canopy over my tiny garden.  The PVC framing over the chicken wire was crushed.  I will have a lot of firewood right in my yard this year. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Our Choice. A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis

I promised a while back to review Al Gore's book, "Our Choice."  It is not a hard read.  Much of it could be subtitled, "good ideas that even a skeptic could buy into.  Chapters three through 13, plus chapter 17, are solution oriented.  There are good summaries of the potential for wind and solar, plus a surprisingly optimistic appraisal of the potential for geothermal power development.  The sources, most of them online, are here.  There are even a few ideas in the book that Republicans could buy into.  The nation's dairies are so heavily regulated that it is cheaper to transport milk hundreds of miles even half way across the country, than to produce it locally.  Regulation of the electrical generating and transmission industry (p 295) sometimes prevents the utility from owning storage systems to smooth out the flow of wind and solar. 

The book does not contain a summary of what could be done, similar to the wedges proposed by Paccala and Socolow.  here, but if you search hard, there is a free version    Nor does it have a price tag.  However, it does have a ranking of all potential climate mitigation measures from those that save us the most money to those that cost the most.  (p. 246 )  Here's the link. 

Chapters 1 and 2 summarize the climate problem, and have good information on the different types of greenhouse gases. They probably won't by themselves convince anyone who does not already accept the probability of man-caused global warming.  He does briefly discuss peak oil as a related problem.  He also mentions geoengineering, and cites Teller's paper, which I discussed in an earlier post here.  (Gore thinks it would be a very bad idea because we don't know the consequences, and doesn't mention the conspiracy theorists who think we are already doing it.)    The book is skeptical (properly, in my opinion) about the potential for biofuels and clean coal, but not totally dismissive. 

The biggest disappointment is chapter nine, on population.  Gore claims that emancipating women and improving the standard of living in the third world will lead to population stabilization.  I just don't think he has done the math.  A typical third world nation uses about one eighth the amount of fossil fuels that the United States uses.  How will their standard of living be improved while the world is ratcheting down its fossil fuel use.  Gore looks at capital as something that government and the banking industry could provide in whatevert quantity needed, if only they have the proper mindset and incentives.  In that respect, he doesn't buy into "limits to growth." And he understandably avoids the issue differences and limitations in human capital.  We are currently watching Haiti, which has had most of its infrastructure built with US Aid, descending into chaos.  Overpopulation has stripped the country of its forests, and it had lost most of its tourist revenue, in spite of its lush tropical location and abundant beaches, because of the oppressive poverty and lack of security.  Even an establishment sociologist like Jared Diamond, in "Collapse," notes that the differences between Haiti and the more successful Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, are caused in part by the greater influence of European culture and genetics in the Dominican Republic.  And the book has only a fleeting mention of immigration as a source of conflict in African nations.   Nowhere does he state the obvious point that the population stability which the caucasian populations of western nations have gotten by reducing their birth rates is going out the window because of immigration.  Sure, there is the argument that consumption is the problem, not population.  But the immigrants to this country will dramatically increase their carbon footprint.  And their fertility rate is about 60% more than it would be (in Mexico, anyway).  Gore doesn't make an estimate of population growth, but it sounds like he expects the world to reach equilibrium around nine to ten billion.  Maybe my next book will be William Catton's "Overshoot," to help me decide whether this planet can support that number at all.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Copenhagen--The Road Not Taken

The talks broke down, evidently over the unwillingness of the developed nations to subsidize forest preservation in underdeveloped tropical countries.  The price tag seemed too big for any of the delegates to bring home to their legislative bodies. 

Well, there is another way.  The wealthy countries of the world could all agree to impose a 300% tariff on palm oil, tropical hardwoods and beef from the tropics.  According to Al Gore's book, scientists estimate that more than 40% of the excess CO2 that has accumulated in our atmosphere has come from deforestation in past centuries.  Only since 1970 has the consumption of fossil fuels replaced land use as the primary source of excess CO2 emissions.  Right now, we are actually subsidizing palm oil as a biofuel, even though the impact of clearing tropical forests increase emissions more than the biofuel reduces them. 

In the Amazon, 80% of the land that has been deforested is now used for cattle crops.  If we put up barriers to beef importation, that would mean higher prices at McDonalds and other chains.  For most of us, that isn't too much of a sacrifice.   Ranching in the tropics would generally be limited to what is needed for domestic use, and the pressure to clear forests would be proportionately reduced.  And tropical hardwoods are a niche product, quite valuable for some uses, but replaceable with temperate zone woods grown more sustainably. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nuclear Poker With Iran

Here is a sensible article about dealing with Iran's uranium stockpile from Pat Buchanan, one of the most conservative pundits around.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Buy in Quantity?

We needed some new kitchen trash bags.  So, a box of 15 is $2.29 at Ray's market, or $4.58 for two.  A box of 30 is on a special reduced price at $4.75.  I wonder how many suckers they get for that deal. 

Tax Time Approaches

Yesterday, I got a state tax form 540 in the mail.  I haven't used one for several years.  The form carried the admonition to save trees by doing taxes electronically, but they still sent it to me.  This is one small way the state could save a little money. 
Actually, I have been paper filing state returns from my Turbotax.  This isn't the most tree friendly way, but it is still the cheapest.  Perhaps there is a way the state could distinguish this kind of return from a hand written return.