Saturday, July 12, 2008

Great Post: This is Not a Drill

My mentor and colleague, Glen Hiemstra, is becoming something of an energy futurist lately. I really like his most recent post at, entitled "This is Not a Drill."

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Altruism Isn't Enough

I like to think altruism works for the human race. Or even self-interest across a time span like a human lifetime. But then I think about what I've actually seen. In the last two years or so - since climate change became more of a commonly talked about issue, more accepted, there has been change. Across those two years, a few of the people I know have made significant changes. They almost never drive, they plan carefully, they conserve. I've made changes, although less than a lot of people I know. I still drove to a trailhead today to walk the dog, when I could have left from the house. I chose a fairly local trailhead, but still....

Then, came the last few months. As gas prices rose dramatically, almost everyone I know changed behavior to at least some extent. Many to a great extent. The change is big enough for shock value. My thirty dollar a tank car is now a fifty dollar a tank car. I think about driving trip distances. There's a party in Kent I'm not going to go to, but which I would have driven to a year ago.

So simply understanding climate change was real didn't change behavior to the extent we need. But gas price change - something real and tangible - made more real changes. This makes me think a few things:

Gas prices need to get higher
Regulation, penalties, and carbon taxes are probably even more important that I thought

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Washington State has been cold. The first week of June was the coldest on record, and a recent Seattle Times headline read "Colder than Siberia," which in fact, we were. I'm doing laundry this morning, and it's almost all sweatshirts. I've heard the term "Junuary" used to describe this miserable month.
My friends on the east coast have been way too hot; their blogs bemoan the loss of useful midday activities as they succumb to the urge to stay inside or nap and try to work their writing time around the unusual weather. Another friend just posted about her family being unable to get to the store etc. because of the floods in Iowa (and they're among the lucky; their house isn't under water).
Maybe now that both parties appear to have a nominee, we'll start to hear some political chatter about this. We could use some leadership on the issue from Mr. Obama, who seems to have the ear of a lot of people, and who speaks astonishingly well. Let's hope he doesn't wait until after the election to get loud on this issue.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A Conversation at Starbucks

In a line at Starbucks yesterday:

"It cost me $50.00 to fill up my tank."
Grunt. "Cost me $75. Did you see that show about Tesla?"
"The car. That's cool."
Admiringly: "Guy was pretty smart, too."
In agreement "Yeah."
"Bet we coulda had electric cars earlier. Tesla knew a lot."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Opportunity Knocks: Can anyone build a better plane?

I booked flights the other day. Ouch. Since I travel by air four or five times a year, I watch the industry a little. Its struggling. Its fleet is aging, fuel prices have a big impact on bottom line, and nearly everything about airlines is regulated or unionized. Business models are old. A few carriers, like Southwest, are doing sort of okay, and the others are doing less than okay.

We think that we need more fuel efficient cars? We do. And airlines need better jets.

Yet access to new planes is controlled by a worldwide duopoly: Airbus and Boeing. Boeing is late on its popular (but still not flying) Dreamliner, and just announced a probably multi-year delay in completing design for 737 replacement. Airbus isn't doing well enough to take up that slack, and may be adding to the shortage of anything modern or useful available for sale. So the existing airplane suppliers are in trouble, but the demand for airplanes is huge. Airplanes and air flight, and even better, pleasant air flight like we once enjoyed (How long has it been since you looked forward to getting on a plane?).

I bet someone out there is assembling a design team to beat Boeing and Airbus to the punch. Yes, it's a high barrier to entry. Yes it's an expensive and risky and regulated process. But look how much good it could do the world. And whoever makes an agile and green plane first, might also see a pretty good reward.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Acid Red Flags

Eight years ago, I heard oceanographer Sylvia Earle keynote an international GIS conference. Her talk deepened my understanding of the importance of the oceans, which I pretty much got anyway, and of their fragility. They don't look fragile. I grew up in sailing family and they often felt vast, beautiful, awe-inspiring, moody, etc. But I wouldn't have used the word fragile until I heard Sylvia talk.
This morning, the Seattle Times reports that ocean acidification is happening faster than climate change models predicted (remember - one of my predictions for 2008 was that many indicators would, unfortunately, come faster than predicted). Apparently our coastlines are plagued by water that is hard for marine life to live in. As our might be soon (is? In some places, for sure, because of the same things we're doing that cause climate change).
Here is a short quote from the article, "All along the coast, the scientists found regions where the water was acidic enough to dissolve the shells and skeletons of clams, corals and many of the tiny creatures at the base of the marine food chain. Acidified water also can kill fish eggs and a wide range of marine larvae."

Monday, May 19, 2008

If a legendary Texas oilman says it....

The end quote of an interview that CNN published today with T. Boone Pickens is, "But we are going to have to do something different in America. You can't keep paying out $600 billion a year for oil."
The guts of the story are that Mr. Pickens is going into wind farming. I can't think of better people to do this than oilmen and oilwomen (surely there must be oilwomen?). These are people that understand the energy markets and know how to make viable energy businesses. And it takes their money - hopefully a lot of it -- out of the losing game of squeezing ever more oil out of every possible source.
Nice to have a bit of good news in this generally bad-news era.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It's all short-term thinking

The part of climate change / rising carbon levels that we created before about a decade ago is excusable, maybe. But since then? After we understood that there was a very strong likelihood that our behavior was changing our atmosphere? Maybe it was even two decades ago -1987 was the year of the ozone hole, after all.
Short term thinking says I'm going to drive today, use too much power today, invest in oil stocks today, whatever. The results of short-term thinking are all over our current economic woes. We get told to spend out way to a healthy economy whether we need anything or not. Short-term thinking - money spent today doesn't give us money for tomorrow. Businesses live on tiny, tiny margins. For example, Linens and Things is expected to go under because of slow spending. That means they didn't have a few months of cushion. Banks go under because they lent money with no safety net since it looked so good and sweet on the bottom line (WaMu is in that situation).
Short-term thinking will get us past the tipping point in climate change. We have to think longer and harder. We need to accept slowing down so we can be more deliberate. We need to accept short term pain for long-term gain.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Snow, and Cooling Public Budgets

I started this blog partly to record my observations and thoughts about climate change. There are other places better at the science.

Today,climate change seems a lot more accurate than global warming, but that's because my first spring daffodils had their pale and tender heads glued to the sidewalk with last night's very late spring snowfall. I can remember quite a few winters in Washington with no snow; this year we've had a lot.

I spent Friday and Saturday at a City Council Retreat, and the Council did suggest the city include sustainability as an overall goal in addition to the many smaller ways it's already in our goal set - like green building programs. But we're having a tough budget year, and its going to be hard to keep all of our green initiatives going. Well-conceived sustainability programs almost all have an eventual payoff, especially when you consider the public triple bottom line (environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic progress). But a lot of them are in that tender start up time when any new venture needs continued funding, and in a downturn, many cities get hurt. I'm hopeful that through these tough budget times, elected officials around the country will be able to make the tough, sustainable, long-term decisions.

Voters are going to have to help them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Life Imitating Art Imitating Life....

I was at a science fiction convention this weekend, and at one point there was a discussion between me and someone else about science fiction plots, and the other person mused that we would see more global warming plots in sf books. We have seen some - Kim Stanley Robinson has a great trilogy out on the topic, and I have it as background in two as-yet-unpublished novels, for example.

Anyway, I just picked up James Patterson's fourth Maximum Ride book for my bus reading pleasure, and he's addressing it there. So two days after that discussion, that what I'm reading, entirely on accident.

And then today, there is more Antarctic ice breaking free. And some of the setting in the Patterson Book is Antarctica.

We science fiction writers like to be prescient and preen a bit when we think of examples like cell phone which are a lot like Star Trek communicators. But I for one don't want to be prescient on global warming.

I suspect I will be.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Is it just me, or is it getting worse out there?

This week's news stories highlight that the real data is worse than we thought. China's greenhouse gas emissions grew faster than projected. This means the IPCC report was based on data that looked better than the real data. This morning, the story is about glaciers melting faster than expected, which may destabilize India, where the rivers are largely melt water.
I can't remember a major global warming story that showed data which was better than expected. My fear this morning is that if we get far enough behind the global warming curve (if we aren't already - except to quote a popular politician, hope is a good thing), poverty and economic damage will make it worse - the desperate don't care about being green. That's a Maslow's hierarchy thing. I can recycle and buy green products and slowly change my lifestyle (today's puzzle is what to do with end of life battery backup for the desktop computer), but the hungry and sick will have more imperative worries.
The household eleven year old came home and got us all playing a subsistence farming game last week. My game family all slowly died, except the ones I sent away who might have gotten menial jobs, or might have gotten sold into slavery.
Much of the world is waking up to the danger, but there are clear signs of boredom here in America. Climate change should be a top issue in this election, but instead our economy is the top issue. It's not even the war. It's gas being almost half the price of gas in Europe. Which underscores my point above about poverty and economic damage.
Maybe if the data keeps getting worse, climate change will rise to the top after the election.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Book Review: Vanishing World, the Endangered Arctic by Mireille De La Lez and Fredrik Granath

I'm going to a more formal review of this book along with another one tonight or tomorrow over at, but I wanted to post my experience of reading it here.

Vanishing World is a picture book. As far as I can tell, it's goal is to show us what we are in grave danger of losing in the Arctic.

I was sitting on the couch this morning finishing the last half of it with our golden retriever, Nixie, curled up next to me and the sun just beginning to paint almost-frozen garden outside green and gold. I'd turn a page, and then exclaim about the bear or the arctic fox or the sunshine on the ice. Primarily a picture book, Vanishing World kept pulling visceral, emotional reactions from me. I'd show particular pictures to Nixie, and she'd dutifully look, and then put her head back on her paws. Every once in a while, I'd have to go show a picture to Toni in her office.

I really enjoyed this. I think you might, too - whoever you are.

After I get the formal review done, I'll add a link to it in a post here.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Doesn't Feel Like Global Warming

today. It's pretty cold all over the Northwest, reportedly from a La Nina year. Implies the ocean currents have a more immediate affect than the warming trend.

On Friday morning, as I was leaving for a weekend workshop on the Oregon coast, the front page of the Seattle Times had an article about how much snow we've had this year. All the east-west routes across the Cascades were closed that morning, and at least I90 was closed today on my way home. We've certainly had more snow than usual in Bellevue, even though we don't have any accumulation to speak of. So the front page is an article on the heavy snowpack. Three pages in, there's an article about how global warming is threatening our snowpack on the west coast.

Not this year.

Climate is complex.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Global Warming Opinions

I spent the weekend at Rustycon, which is a small local science fiction convention in the Seattle area. I moderated two panels on global warming. Unlike the larger conventions, the panelists were generally bright and well known fans, but not experts on climate change. One of the panels was entitled something like "Climate change, science or religion" and turned out to largely be a rant about people who believe the fact that climate change is caused by humans tending to be closed to any other ideas. I generally agree with that, in the sense that I'm quite open to hearing all sides of the debate. But I have to say that for me, it's a risk/reward kind of thing, and it seems pretty likely that we are at least a large part of the problem. Not only that, but most of the behavior changes needed to reduce our carbon output are a good idea anyway. Almost all the easy first wins are in conservation - whether it's using mass transit, simply turning off the lights, or installing building systems smart enough to turn the lights off for you, and which don't take more energy in their turn than leaving all the lights on), and shifting to renewables, particularly water, sun, and the like. Wouldn't it be nice to get all our energy from home?

Anyway, both panels had a healthy dose of skepticism. Maybe a little too healthy - I left slightly disturbed. Given that the worst downside risk of being wrong is major damage to the only atmosphere we have, and that's there is lots of supporting evidence for the theory that we can mitigate this, why don't we?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Book Recommendation: Storm Chaser

I don't often get sent books to review - I do recommend books that I like on my own writing site, and Glen Hiemstra and I both occasionally recommend books on Glen's site (and I will cross-post this there in the future with comments on a few other books, mostly obtained in the usual way, by paying money in a bookstore). If I don't like a book, it doesn't matter who sends it; I just stay quiet. There are enough critical reviewers. Anyway, publisher Harry N. Abrams, Inc. sent me two books that deal very directly with global warming, and I liked them. I waited patiently for the holidays to end before talking about them (who wants a Christmas gift about the scariest things happening in the world?).

Anyway, I'm digressing. Today, I want to recommend a stunning narrated photography book called Storm Chaser, A Photographer's Journey, by Jim Reed.

Storm Chaser relates well to my last few posts, where I discussed weird weather. The book is a series of beautifully presented professional photographs of storms, and might be worth buying just for the photos. But it's real strength is in the straightforward narrative about global warming and climate change. Storm Chaser is organized by season, and each season includes a discussion of storm chasing and of the beauty and mystery of that season. This discussion - and the accompanying photos - show how climate change is now a central thread for people fascinated by powerful weather. It is the elephant in the sky that can't be ignored.

Amazingly, I still run into skeptics when I talk about global warming. Most of the skeptics have desk jobs. People who are close to the land - farmers and cowboys and hikers and outfitters -are not skeptical. A storm chaser is close to land and sea and sky, to wind and rain and flood and drought, to tornado and squall and rainbow. So who better to understand and document our changing atmosphere than a storm chaser?

Anyway, Jim Reed did it well. Consider Storm Chaser recommended reading.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Weird Weather

Well, two days ago, I predicted the weird weather would continue this year. Here, it's cold and wintry, and kind of normal. But they've had tornadoes in the Midwest this morning. This is not a normal winter event, and it ties in really well with the book recommendation I'm hoping to find time to write up tonight.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Year End/Beginning - Personal Review and Goals

sWell, in 2007,

I started taking the bus at least a few days a week
We changed out the washer and dryer for energy star appliances
We changed out half of the windows for more efficient ones
When we replaced some carpet, we used green carpet
We tried out green paint in the laundry room
I switched to much less use of bottled water (using sigg bottles and a britta filter instead)
We changed the holiday lights to all LED's
We worked on habits, like unplugging chargers when not in use. Some habits changed more than others.
Not everything was positive - we installed automatic sprinkler systems, and watered more. The garden loved it, but I'd bet our water use was up instead of down (even with rain sensors).

So for 2008,

I think conservation habits like turning off lights will be important
I want to pare down my consumption
We'll change out the frig and the heating system (both are struggling anyway, so it's not purely altruistic like the washer and dryer)
If I can stick to my bus commutes that will be good enough
I want to actually compare energy use in 2006 with 2007, and in 2007 with 2008

We already had the fluorescent light bulbs and bought Terra Passes with air flight.

The hard ones on that list will be keeping lights off (I tried, but didn't get a lot better in 2007) and reducing consumption. I'm like a lot of other Americans -- retail therapy seems to sorta work, or at least get practiced. So I want to buy less. Which would also be good for my finances. But consumption is like an addiction.... I'll report back from time to time.

Anyone out there have other interesting stuff they did or plan to do?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Predictions for 2008

Sorry for the long hiatus. I was busy finishing a book, which always takes a lot out of me, and we had the lovely chaos of the holidays (yes, we put up lights, but only LED lights, even on the tree). But I've got a pile of a subjects and a few book recommendations coming your way soon. I wanted to start out with my 2008 predictions around climate change. First - an overall observation - we're holding our breath for the elections to be over. At least in America, and maybe worldwide. That's the overall statement about the year - a year of holding our breath, of halting progress, of growing hope and idealism....

- There will be more wild weather. That includes extreme cold as well as extreme heat. Climate change is not a gentle process, and we’ll be reminded of that yet again.
- Some key indicators, like sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet, will continue to change faster than predicted.
- Climate Change will be an issue in the American presidential election, but not one of the top three even though it should be.
- Signs of fatigue will set in. The green movement has so far resulted in some real and lasting change, but this year won’t see as great a rate of change as last year. Partly that’s because many of us have made the easy changes and the next round is tougher. Partly it’s because the economy is stressed and the new Prius in the driveway is still seen as a luxury.
- Gas prices will stay high, maybe dipping in the fall pre-election, but not far, or for long.
- Alternative energy will keep doing well. More venture capital will keep flowing, and real money will be both made and lost.

What are your predictions? Add them as comments....