Catch 22: Heat churns in a vicious cycle

Coal burning power plants and vehicles emit particles that increase the greenhouse effect. Air conditioners need more power to cool homes and businesses as the atmospheric heat increases. Power plants burn more coal and emit more particles. The greenhouse effect increases…. solar home

Every summer I ask why we don’t have solar cells on our roofs, producing power for air conditioning and reflecting the sunlight that heats our homes. I am told that solar cells don’t look good on a house (perceptions will change). The local power company doesn’t allow connections to its grid (why not?). The return-on-investment of solar cells isn’t viable (maybe next year). Politicians don’t get wined and dined by solar lobbyists (true). And so nothing changes.

Our electric bill will be $400 for August. A few more years and it will be $1000 or $1500. We’ll be admiring the homes with solar cells when that day arrives.

Below are some excerpts from the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper about the heat.

Link: POURING IT ON: Heat churns in a vicious cycle | ajc.com.

The hotter and stickier it gets, the more we stay inside. The more we’re inside, the more electricity we use blasting the A/C. The more power we consume —- added to the traffic pollution —- the more soot- and smog-forming chemicals we add to the air. And that makes for still lousier air quality and even more reason to stay indoors. We’re fouling our own nest, in effect, and it’s a vicious cycle.

WHAT’S CAUSING THE BAD AIR?

Weather: Hot temperatures, stagnant air, no rain and little wind has created dome-like atmospheric conditions that keep pollution from leaving.

Traffic: Cars and trucks are the main cause of smog and probably the biggest contributor to soot pollution.

Power plants: Coal-fired power plants are major contributors to particle pollution, or soot. To a lesser degree they also contribute to ground-level ozone, or smog.

Everything else: With the air going nowhere, even backyard barbecues, lawn mowers and weed whackers are adding to pollution saturation.

17,546: Monday’s megawatt peak in Georgia
17,160: Last year’s peak (Aug. 4, 2006)
15,924: Highest daily peak in July

WHAT’S A MEGAWATT?

A megawatt measures capacity to produce electricity in an instant of time. Megawatt hours refer to the amount of megawatts used in an hour’s time.

One megawatt is enough to power 250 homes or a Publix or Kroger.
Forty megawatts would power one SuperWal-Mart or 10,000 homes.
Four hundred megawatts is enough to power 10 Super Wal-Marts or 100,000 homes.

Scott Adams on Global Warming

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, has been reviewing the evidence about global warming and reaches some conclusions. Excerpts below.

Link: The Dilbert Blog: Global Warming – Part 4

1. The earth is getting warmer, and human activity is an important part of it. I base this conclusion on the lack of credible peer reviewed work to the contrary and the mountain of work that confirms human-induced warming. While individual studies might be wrong, it’s extremely unlikely the entire field has been so thoroughly duped.

2. There is plenty of bullshit on both sides of the issue. The people arguing that humans are not causing relatively rapid rises in temperatures are under-informed, misinformed, or suffering from bad thinking and bad analogies.

3. The people who are well-informed about global warming are overstating the case by conflating the well-studied fact of human-created warming with the less-than-certain predictions of what happens because of the extra warming. And there’s a tendency to leave out the “why I might be wrong” parts of the argument. I call that bullshit.

4. The people who say global warming is irrelevant because we should all be recycling and using less fossil fuel for other reasons anyway don’t understand the size of the problem. Ordinary conservation in the industrialized nations won’t put a dent in it.

Instituto Thomas Jefferson

Atanu Dey visited the Mexico City campus of Instituto Thomas Jefferson recently (excerpts below). He was impressed. I am impressed with what he found. From what Atanu writes and my exposure at the University of Virginia to Jefferson’s thoughts on education, I think Mr. Jefferson would be pleased with this institution.

Link: Atanu Dey on India’s Development » Instituto Thomas Jefferson

What sets ITJ apart is not the fine 18th century hacienda in which the Mexico City campus is housed. What distinguishes ITJ is one word: values. The values of the founders form the foundation upon which the school is built and it is no surprise to learn that the school has been recently judged to be the best school in Latin America.

The school’s attitude of dynamism reflects the essential aspect of the world we live in, a world of growth, of advancement, of constant striving towards goals and ideals.

Here is just an aspect of that attitude. There is a department in the school which focuses on attempting to predict what the world is going to be like 15 years hence. It is what I call a “look ahead” – try to discern what is the world going to be like by the time the kids entering the school today graduate. By doing so, you can better prepare the students to meet the challenges of the world to be.

The “look ahead” program is called “Vision 2020”. ITJ uses in-house staff as well as experts around the world to make educated guesses about the skills that will be valuable in the future. Thus, for instance, the kids learn how to effectively use video conferencing; or the use of the best technology tools. They learn not just the subject matter but also the use of the most effective tools. Heard of “mental maps”? They use it at ITJ at the elementary level.

…they teach values. And how to be a good, effective, thinking person. They have a program which teaches how to effectively express your emotions. Subject matter is well and good but you need to teach kids interpersonal skills. They teach the kids to “STOP, THINK, and DO.”

The atmosphere in the school was one of happiness. Whenever I entered a classroom, I was greeted by eager faces. They were confident and did not shrink from expressing themselves. They posed for the pictures and told me excitedly about what they were doing in class.

Creativity matters to ITJ. They have a strong theatre program and every year they stage a Broadway play. I saw some pictures of the plays they have staged. Professional quality.

They do things in style. For example, in KG, while learning about, say, marsupials, the kids will then take a virtual tour of a zoo in NY or in Australia through video conferencing and interact with people in remote locations.

[School founder] Ricardo Carvajal was especially proud of their science curriculum. The school has taken the top three places in the National Contest for Chemistry. It has featured in the top 10 in the last nine years. They have video conferencing with NASA astronauts. ITJ is definitely the sort of place (unlike some school districts in the US) where evolution is taught. ITJ seeks out the best. It has relationships with Harvard University, and joint ventures with universities in Florida and California.

Winning the War on Terror

Tom Evslin at Fractals of Change offers six steps to victory for Winning the War on Terror. These ideas are probably too reasonable to be supported in Washington, where strategy is too often based on cliches and under-the-table profiteering.

Link: Fractals of Change: Winning the War on Terror.

Start a dramatic program to reduce US dependence on foreign oil (and establish US leadership in alternatives). 

Way too much oil money ends up directly supporting terrorists or running schools for future terrorists or supporting absurd monarchies in countries which spawn terrorists. 

End the war on drugs. 

We aren’t going to “win” this one.  Attempts to keep drugs illegal just drive up drug prices and profits for the drug trade.  Terrorists and drug cartels are natural allies.

Partition and leave Iraq.
Time’s up.  I’m still not at all sorry Saddam was toppled.  I still remember that he did not allow the UN inspections required to assure that he did not have WMD.  That was his mistake and not ours.  But creating a democracy in Iraq is a job for Iraqis. 

Take effective action to topple the regime in North Korea.
The most dangerous illusion in the world is that joining the nuclear club puts a country beyond restraint. 

Depolarize our domestic debate on civil liberties.
This debate is much too important for the name-calling it’s degenerated into.

Rename the war on terror.
…much of the world is at war, with Islamic fascists. In fact, no one suffers from radical Islam more than Moslems.  There is no point in being politically correct and not recognizing our enemy. 

Addicted to the News

Steve Pavlina provides 13 reasons not to watch, read, or listen to the news. I quit listening to talk radio while driving three years ago and I am much more relaxed when I get out of the car. If you want to understand his reasoning, click on the link.

Link: Overcoming News Addiction

  1. News is predominantly negative. 
  2. News is addictive.
  3. News is myopic. 
  4. News is marketing.
  5. News is shallow. 
  6. News is untrustworthy. 
  7. News is thought conditioning. 
  8. News is trivia.
  9. News is redundant.
  10. News is irrelevant.
  11. News isn’t actionable.
  12. News is problem-obsessed.
  13. News is a waste of time.

Who’s In Control?

Dave Pollard describes intentionality: individuals have the potential for self-determination, even though many powerful forces attempt to herd the various groups, tribes, and organizations into the preferred direction. What is required is a sense of ‘purposefulness’ — having an intention. A nice reminder for anyone who feels discouraged.

Link: How to Save the World

…We watch corrupt politicians with enormously powerful and wealthy connections steal elections. We watch horrifically destructive mega-polluters lie and deny in hugely influential media, media that they have bought with their ill-gotten gains. We watch corporate, political and celebrity criminals literally getting away with murder. We watch churches and other social organizations turned into astonishingly effective propaganda arms of devious extremist political groups, in both affluent and struggling nations. We watch psychopathic fear-mongers trump impassioned voices of reason in the war for public opinion. It is easy to get discouraged, to believe that mere intentionality, no matter how impassioned, rational, altruistic and intuitively sensible it may be, is no match for the clout of those that care about nothing, that seek only the soulless acquisition of even more wealth and power, for its own sake.

But then we realize that, in today’s immensely complex world, where the levers of power are increasingly ineffective against multitudinous and asymmetric opponents, and where neither social nor ecological systems can be managed, predicted, analyzed, or even significantly steered, no one is in control. Our world is like a vehicle accelerating ahead on its own momentum and careening wildly from side to side, with no braking or steering mechanism available to the powerful bullies and rich gamblers who still believe themselves to be in the driver’s seat. The rich and powerful are failing in nine out of every ten things they try to do. Their attempts to gain popular support are universally backfiring in the court of public opinion, as the truth comes out despite their machinations to obscure it. Every time they think they have a new ploy or a new technology that will accomplish their goals, its implementation instead creates a dozen new unforeseeable problems that they cannot constrain or even influence, and which takes them even farther from their intended objective.

And we realize, too, that the only person who has influence over our personal ability to Let-Self-Change is us, the lonely, disconnected bag of skin and organs that is the individual. To the extent we let others make our decisions for us, that too is ultimately our choice. And even though our minds are principally in the service of the organisms that comprise our body, and our decisions are mostly made instinctively and subconsciously by them for their benefit, still we have significant influence over what we do.

Most Biofuels Are NOT Viable for Producing Energy

Adam Fenderson at New Matilda describes why we can’t use corn and wheat for fuel for our cars. Excerpts below. Warning: These facts may cause indigestion.

Link: The Real Green Revolution | EnergyBulletin.net | Peak Oil News Clearinghouse

In searching for a green alternative to fossil fuels, everyone from Willie Nelson to the Governor of California , from prominent environmentalists to General Motors and Monsanto, has promoted ethanol or other biofuels. While it’s true that we desperately need alternatives, biofuels based on industrial agriculture, are in no sense ‘sustainable.’

Post-war technologies made possible the so-called ‘Green Revolution,’ or industrialisation of agriculture. From chemical warfare came the pesticide and herbicide industry, from military vehicles came the technology for improved farm machinery. They proved very effective. Between 1950 and 1984 world grain production increased a remarkable 250 per cent, while farm labour dropped, enabling the rapid rise in human population over the same period.

Unfortunately, the relationship between food and war does not end there.

The rise in agricultural production was particularly suited to grains. Grains are a special type of food. Excluding fossil fuels, they represent some of the most densely packed chemical energy in the natural world. As Richard Manning writes in his essay ‘The Oil We Eat: Following the Food Chain Back to Iraq ’, grains also lend themselves to very destructive farming methods.

Grains are adapted to disaster. In nature, they dominate land only after catastrophic events such as floods. Their short lives are devoted to putting as much energy as possible into their seeds, so that they may spring up first, as pioneer species. In order to grow them, year after year, we turn over the topsoil and spray for weeds to artificially create the conditions of catastrophe they favour.

Every time we plough, it is like a high stakes game of Russian roulette. Plants and soil organisms can (very slowly) create topsoil from the subsoil below. But, truly revitalising fertility on a large scale requires geological assistance in such forms as ash from volcanic eruptions, or rock-crushing glaciers.

A handful of good soil contains more living creatures than there are human beings on the earth. The little we know about these creatures reads like an Alice in Wonderland adventure — amoeba with temporary feet, vampiric protozoa, fungi with elaborate communication systems and symbiotic relationships with trees. When we pour nitrogen-based fertiliser and agricultural poisons onto the soil, or expose it to the sun, we destroy this life.

As the life dies, we lose the humus, the organic component of the topsoil. As it rots it releases methane, becoming a major contributor to global warming. Without the ecosystem services provided by the soil life, the soil is left as nothing more than a dead medium to hold plants upright in. We then have to supply more fertilisers artificially – and the sad cycle continues.

Each year, more and more virgin forested land and fossil fuel energy must be fed into the agricultural system simply to maintain current levels of production. Yet, each year, insects are becoming more resistant to pesticides, water must be pumped from deeper down in the earth, weather conditions are becoming less stable, and less ecosystem services are being provided by soil organisms, without cost. We are facing diminishing returns.

Despite the rapid growth in agricultural production over the past 35 years, per-capita levels of grain production peaked in 1985. Distribution politics aside, it is only this century, however, that the problem has become critical. In every year bar one since 2000, the world has consumed more grains than it has produced . Less than two-months worth of grains are now in storage around the world. Last time stores were this low, in the early 1970s, global wheat and rice prices doubled.

The promise, and perhaps the greatest challenge ever faced by our species, is that these destructive forms of agriculture cannot continue. The Green Revolution has increased energy inputs to agriculture to levels around 50 times those of traditional agriculture. Yet energy availability will soon fall. The increasing unavailability (and therefore increasing cost) of oil and gas means that we will need to begin to de-industrialise and re-localise our food systems.

To succeed is to survive – to avoid more widespread hunger, and develop sustainable, healthy food systems. We need great efforts to enable farmers to produce food with less energy and less destruction to their own land, encouraging innovative designs and techniques inspired by permaculture, incorporating traditional systems and modern science, such as keyline ploughing and swale building. We need to produce more food in and around the cities, while changing our relationship to food so we eat it fresh and in season.

We are lucky that one country has been through such a process and survived already: Cuba. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost most of its oil and fertiliser imports virtually overnight. With research, institutions turned over to low energy food production techniques, and organic food production encouraged in the cities, Cubans’ life expectancies and infant mortality rates now rival or better the United States, while using around one eighth of the energy per capita.

via EnergyBulletin.net | Peak Oil News Clearinghouse

More posts about Monsanto:

Are you eating Monsanto’s genetically modified crops?

Monsanto’s Government Ties

Monsanto Backs Off Bio-Wheat

Shining a Light on Agribusiness and It’s Poster Child Monsanto

Monsanto Files Patent for the Pig

Radical Thinking

Rebecca Goldstein describes the influence of philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who was excommunicated from community in which he had been raised 350 years ago. Excerpts below.

Link: Edge 189

The exact reasons for the excommunication of the 23-year-old Spinoza remain murky, but the reasons he came to be vilified throughout all of Europe are not. Spinoza argued that no group or religion could rightly claim infallible knowledge of the Creator’s partiality to its beliefs and ways. After the excommunication, he spent the rest of his life — he died in 1677 at the age of 44 — studying the varieties of religious intolerance. The conclusions he drew are still of dismaying relevance.The Jews who banished Spinoza had themselves been victims of intolerance, refugees from the Spanish-Portuguese Inquisition.

Spinoza’s reaction to the religious intolerance he saw around him was to try to think his way out of all sectarian thinking. He understood the powerful tendency in each of us toward developing a view of the truth that favors the circumstances into which we happened to have been born. Self-aggrandizement can be the invisible scaffolding of religion, politics or ideology.

Against this tendency we have no defense but the relentless application of reason. Reason must stand guard against the self-serving false entailments that creep into our thinking, inducing us to believe that we are more cosmically important than we truly are, that we have had bestowed upon us — whether Jew or Christian or Muslim — a privileged position in the narrative of the world’s unfolding.Spinoza’s system is a long deductive argument for a conclusion as radical in our day as it was in his, namely that to the extent that we are rational, we each partake in exactly the same identity.

Spinoza’s faith in reason as our only hope and redemption is the core of his system, and its consequences reach out in many directions, including the political. Each of us has been endowed with reason, and it is our right, as well as our responsibility, to exercise it. Ceding this faculty to others, to the authorities of either the church or the state, is neither a rational nor an ethical option.

Which is why, for Spinoza, democracy was the most superior form of government — only democracy can preserve and augment the rights of individuals. The state, in helping each person to preserve his life and well-being, can legitimately demand sacrifices from us, but it can never relieve us of our responsibility to strive to justify our beliefs in the light of evidence.

It is for this reason that he argued that a government that impedes the development of the sciences subverts the very grounds for state legitimacy, which is to provide us physical safety so that we can realize our full potential. And this, too, is why he argued so adamantly against the influence of clerics in government. Statecraft infused with religion not only dissolves the justification for the state but is intrinsically unstable, since it must insist on its version of the truth against all others.

…The Declaration of Independence, that extraordinary document first drafted by Thomas Jefferson, softly echoes Spinoza. John Locke, Spinoza’s contemporary — both were born in 1632 — is a more obvious influence on Jefferson than Spinoza was. But Locke had himself been influenced by Spinoza’s ideas on tolerance, freedom and democracy. In fact, Locke spent five formative years in Amsterdam, in exile because of the political troubles of his patron, the Earl of Shaftesbury.

If we can hear Locke’s influence in the phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," (a variation on Adam Smith’s Locke-inspired "life, liberty and pursuit of property"), we can also catch the sound of Spinoza addressing us in Jefferson’s appeal to the "laws of nature and of nature’s God." This is the language of Spinoza’s universalist religion, which makes no reference to revelation, but rather to ethical truths that can be discovered through human reason.

Spinoza had argued that our capacity for reason is what makes each of us a thing of inestimable worth, demonstrably deserving of dignity and compassion. That each individual is worthy of ethical consideration is itself a discoverable law of nature, obviating the appeal to divine revelation. An idea that had caused outrage when Spinoza first proposed it in the 17th century, adding fire to the denunciation of him as a godless immoralist, had found its way into the minds of men who set out to create a government the likes of which had never before been seen on this earth.

Spinoza’s dream of making us susceptible to the voice of reason might seem hopelessly quixotic at this moment, with religion-infested politics on the march. But imagine how much more impossible a dream it would have seemed on that day 350 years ago. And imagine, too, how much even sorrier our sorry world would have been without it.

The Silver Lining… to high energy prices

dark cloud

Every dark cloud has a silver lining.

The Silver Lining… to high energy prices

We must face our addiction to cheap oil.

We can invest in alternative sources of energy.

We can reduce the funding of terrorists.

We can justify more fuel-efficient transportation.

We can invest in sustainable energy.

We can invest in clean energy.

We can become less dependent on unstable governments.

Please put any suggestions for additions to this list in the comments below. Thanks!

Emotional Decision Hinder Investing, Research Shows

Source: Today in Investor’s Business Daily stock analysis and business news

Emotion can be your biggest enemy when it comes to investing. In fact, people physically incapable of feeling emotion may have a big edge on other investors, say some scientists.

A study published in June in the journal Psychological Science found that emotionally impaired people are more willing to pursue aggressive growth investing strategies. Researchers asked 41 people with normal IQs to play a simple investment game. Fifteen of the group had suffered lesions on the areas of the brain that affect emotions.

The result? Those with brain damage outperformed those without. The scientists found that emotions led some subjects to avoid risks, even when the potential benefits far outweighed the losses. Antione Bechara, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Iowa, says the best investors are those able to feel no emotions while trading. He called such investors "functional psychopaths." The study’s co-author, Baba Shiv of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says many CEOs and top lawyers may also share the same ability to suppress emotion in making key decisions.

Antione Bechara, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Iowa, says the best investors are those able to feel no emotions while trading. He called such investors "functional psychopaths."

The study’s co-author, Baba Shiv of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says many CEOs and top lawyers may also share the same ability to suppress emotion in making key decisions.

"Emotions serve an adaptive role in speeding up the decision-making process," said Shiv. "However, there are circumstances in which a naturally occurring emotional response must be inhibited, so that a deliberate and potentially wiser decision can be made."