I was pleased to see the 10 August 2016 announcement by the Sierra Club that ten U.S. cities have vowed to ”lead the way to 100 percent clean energy.”
The club announced a new report showcasing the 10 cities making ambitious commitments to replace fossil fuel combustion (which generates greenhouse gases, adding to global warming and its many adverse consequences).
The report claims that
“…public officials and community leaders see the transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy not as an obligation but as an opportunity. Cities powered by 100% clean energy save taxpayer dollars, help their residents save money, create good jobs, and foster a better quality of life.”
All well and good. However, partial conversion of a few subdivisions, towns, and cities does not a substantial reversal of the accelerating global warming process make. This great beginning needs rapidly to escalate from partial to complete conversion (including homes, offices, factories, government facilities, and even transportation) and from a few towns and cities to the whole country, eventually the world. And “eventually” cannot mean in the next century.
That will be too late. As you’ll read in my article, the process is already well under way around the world and in the U.S., driven almost completely by market forces, with a little help from local, state, and national governments. But it still is way too slow for ultimate success to be anything we all would want.
Unfortunately, the Sierra Club announcement didn’t indicate if they thought it could be even possible to do a 100% complete conversion from fossil fuels to clean renewable sources. There are many obstacles to a complete conversion, notably in the transportation sector.
The report itself offered this encouraging claim:
“And 100% clean energy is not a not pie-in-the-sky idea. Burlington, Vermont; Aspen, Colorado; Columbia, Maryland; and Greensburg, Kansas, have already achieved 100% clean energy and are powering their cities today with entirely renewable sources.”
The magic word deep in the report seems to be “100% electricity.” In the Case of Aspen, Colorado, other forms of energy use in the city were not mentioned. Has the city made progress running its cars, trucks, trains, and fossil-fuel-powered residential space heating and industrial heating systems without fossil fuels, with only renewable energy sources? To a minor degree the answer is yes.
The wind and solar variability issue alone poses a serious challenge. Wind and solar radiation are not available 100% of the time. How does Aspen manage that? “Aspen’s mix is now approximately 50% wind, 45% hydropower, and the remaining 5% from solar—including solar at the water treatment plant and solar thermal powering an affordable housing neighborhood—and landfill gas.”
That’s impressive, but that 45% from hydropower likely is what saves the day, since it is probably available whenever needed to fill in at night when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
What Aspen is doing now is not necessarily what they’ll be able to do in the future. It is encouraging, but we need to know that going all the way is possible, so that the now-famous adage in this wall mural at a street protest long ago can be the major goal:
As a solar energy scientist for over 40 years now, I’ve been concerned about four big inhibitors to going all-the-way in the conversion from fossil fuel combustion to renewable energy sources. Recently, I did some work to find out how serious these inhibitors are today, after all the years of research and experimentation with renewable energy over the past half century.
Please leave a comment in the space provided below my posting. The more comments on that article, the more the editors at “Climate Desk” and its many partners will pay attention to it, possibly reposting it in their own publications.
As you can tell from the title of my piece, the conclusion I reached was a positive one. I hope you like it.
Dr. Ross McCluney holds B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in physics, worked at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for three years as an optical oceanographer and then as a principal research scientist at the University of Central Florida’s Florida Solar Energy Center for over 30 years. He has been an active environmentalist since before the first Earth Day 1970 and helped organize the University of Miami’s observance of that event. He has taught classes in algebra, radiometry and photometry, and environmental ethics; written books and chapters in books by others; and made presentations to a variety of audiences on energy and environmental topics.
The U.S. presidential election has finally demonstrated that the people have had it. They are rising up in large numbers to let establishment politicians know they won’t take it anymore. The surge of Donald Trump to the head of the Republican Party has confounded nearly everyone. But his populist appeal has won the day—with however crazy the vessel of that anger might be to thinking adults.
The amazing crowds also drawn to Bernie Sanders rallies in the Democratic Party make the same point, with a similar message: We’ve had it with traditional politicians who line their pockets with huge financial gifts from wealthy donors determined to bend public policy toward their greed for money and power.
But in the most important area of all, the first of these protest movements misses the mark while the second is right on target. That is the likelihood of massive environmental, political, and violent disruptions at the hands of global warming. These may bring civilization to the brink of collapse in a few decades, if much more serious action to combat it is not taken now, quickly, and with massive changes in the way that civilization powers itself.
In consequence, a massive set of public protests, demonstrations, gatherings, and stunts is kicking off around the globe this month. BREAKFREE has started a massive global series of actions to convince the world to abandon fossil fuels, leaving them safely in the ground, while switching to energy efficiency and renewable energy. These actions are being taken in the hopes of staving off the scourge of global warming now reaching epic proportions. The severe consequences of rampant, uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions are proceeding unabated—even accelerating—with dire consequences for the future of humanity.
When the total direct and indirect costs of consuming and releasing Carbon are recognized to exceed the cost of alternatives, economic demand for alternatives will automatically increase both in production (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, etc.) and consumption (electric vehicles, Hydrogen fuel cells, etc.). As with tobacco products and other detriments to society and the planet, Government’s role and responsibility is to tax or regulate what is not in the best interest of the population and subsidize what is.
Nations around the world, including the United States, need to fight the influence of the Carbon Energy Industrial Complex that attempts to block or destroy any technology that competes with their product through misinformation and political pressure. There will always be some people who deny facts or research that are counter to their religious beliefs or just resist being changed.
The only solution is continuous education and the knowledge that eventually everyone acts in their own economic self-interest. We need a tax on Carbon energy as soon as possible and continued subsidies on alternatives. If we can increase the popularity of distributed alternative energy technologies without degrading national electric grids around the world, we should move in that direction as well.
— Malcolm Baird, 26 January 2016
On this Martin Luther King Day, it is fitting to reprint below Martin Luther King Jr.’s acceptance speech upon receiving one of the four 1966 Margaret Sanger Awards given by Planned Parenthood Federation of America to honor the woman who founded America’s family planning movement.
1966 was the first year of the award. The other recipients that year were Dr. Carl G. Hartman, General William H. Draper Jr., and President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Recently, the press has been filled with reports of sightings of flying saucers. While we need not give credence to these stories, they allow our imagination to speculate on how visitors from outer space would judge us. I am afraid they would be stupefied at our conduct. They would observe that for death planning we spend billions to create engines and strategies for war. They would also observe that we spend millions to prevent death by disease and other causes. Finally they would observe that we spend paltry sums for population planning, even though its spontaneous growth is an urgent threat to life on our planet. Our visitors from outer space could be forgiven if they reported home that our planet is inhabited by a race of insane men whose future is bleak and uncertain.
There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.
What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of the billions who are its victims.
At the end of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP – 21) in Paris and as a new year arrives, it is fitting to note the publication of an important new work. It is The Annihilation of Nature. The authors are Gerardo Ceballos, a leading ecologist, and the wife and husband duo–Anne H. Ehrlich and Paul R. Ehrlich, Stanford University research scientists both famous for their lifelong efforts to describe the causes and consequences of human overpopulation on Planet Earth.
The Annihilation of Nature — Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals
This book shows us the face of Earth’s sixth great mass extinction, revealing that this century is a time of darkness for the world’s birds and mammals. In The Annihilation of Nature, three of today’s most distinguished conservationists tell the stories of the birds and mammals we have lost and those that are now on the road to extinction. These tragic tales, coupled with eighty-three color photographs from the world’s leading nature photographers, display the beauty and biodiversity that humans are squandering.
Gerardo Ceballos, Anne H. Ehrlich, and Paul R. Ehrlich serve as witnesses in this trial of human neglect, where the charge is the massive and escalating assault on living things. Nature is being annihilated, not only because of the human population explosion, but also as a result of massive commercial endeavors and public apathy. Despite the well-intentioned work of conservation organizations and governments, the authors warn us that not enough is being done and time is short for the most vulnerable of the world’s wild birds and mammals. Thousands of populations have already disappeared, other populations are dwindling daily, and soon our descendants may live in a world containing but a minuscule fraction of the birds and mammals we know today.
Updated 18 December 2015
The UN Conference on Global Warming in Paris is now over.
NYT Op-Ed Columnist Thomas Friedman, writing from Paris, wrote this at the end of the conference:
“I had low expectations for the U.N. climate meeting here and it met all of them — beautifully. I say that without cynicism.
“Any global conference that includes so many countries can’t be expected to agree on much more than the lowest common denominator. But the fact that the lowest common denominator is now so high — a willingness by 188 countries to offer plans to steadily and verifiably reduce their carbon emissions — means we still have a chance to meet what scientists say is our key challenge: to avoid the worst impacts of global warming that we cannot possibly manage and to manage those impacts that we can no longer avoid. That is a big, big deal.
“Hat’s off, because this keeps alive the hope of capping the earth’s warming to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 Fahrenheit, above the level that existed at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution — the rough redline scientists have drawn beyond which ‘global weirding’ will set in and the weather will most likely get really weird and unstable. We’re already almost halfway to passing that redline.
“The only important holdout in the world to this deal is the U.S. Republican Party. I wouldn’t care about such cave men — as one sign borne by a Paris demonstrator said, ‘Dinosaurs didn’t believe in climate change either,’ and it didn’t end well for them — except that one of these knuckleheads could be our next president and mess this up.”
Stopping global warming is the one thing which ordinary persons around the world are able to accomplish. Indeed, our support for the needed political action will be essential for it to be successful, if we can accelerate the plan that came out of the 2015 Paris meeting.
Leaders have already made great advances in many of the countries of the world in drafting their own national plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and bringing them to the Paris meeting. Now it is time for the people not only to support these drafts but to demand they be improved and accelerated in meaningful ways now that the Paris accord has been adopted. For our leaders not to work toward that end (or work against it, as some are doing), I believe, constitutes political incompetence and the leaders dragging their feet should be removed from office. For more on this subject, see my blog posting dated 12 November 2015, “Two Birds — One Stone: A call for action.”
For an excellent and readily available background on global warming, I suggest a visiting with your mobile phone and/or computer to the CNN website two° and its three reports on the subject:
Of course, there is vociferous opposition to action on climate change amongst some conservative members of the U.S. Congress. This seems ass backwards to me.
The United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP-21) has convened in Paris this week. The Presidents of France and the United States have stated that the consequences of uncontrolled global warming are likely to be so serious in this century as to adversely change all our ways of life far into the future.
The juxtaposition of COP-21 and the Paris terrorism attacks two weeks earlier lead to thoughts of how these two events might be related.
I have two questions I think should be debated in the global media this week, while international leaders are in Paris, simultaneously dealing with the dual threatening disasters of climate change and terrorism.
- Is it possible that climate change could at some point in the future extinct humanity?
- Is it possible that terrorism could at some point in the future extinct humanity?
Scientific knowledge and experts should be invited to discuss the first question, while political science knowledge and experts in that field should be brought to the second question. Such discussions would likely be very interesting and informative. I think we’d all like to see what the experts conclude.
It is my belief that the answer to both is yes, at least theoretically.
The first “yes” could result from serious and prolonged destruction of the global ecosystem, accompanied by losses of humanity’s edible food production, including losses of fresh water needed to produce that food, accompanied also by personal and military conflicts associated with these changes — likely to result from extreme global warming and the multiple weather and other associated disasters. If this results in sufficient damage to the global life-support system (our biosphere), the result could well be the extinction (or near-extinction) of humanity.
The second “yes” could come should the terrorist state reaches the point and power where it obtains nuclear weapons and uses them to initiate a global thermonuclear war, killing large numbers of humans and producing serious destruction of governmental, industrial, and agricultural systems, coupled with the use of biological weapons and/or intentional or unintentional release of virulent strains of killer bacteria and rapidly spreading viruses affecting the human population, thereby extincting humanity.
I think the likelihood of the first of these extinction scenarios is very much greater than the second one.
A call for action
Updated 3 December 2015
The world is rapidly approaching COP-21, the 21st United Nations “Conference of the Parties,” the climate change convention taking place early December in Paris.
President Obama and other world leaders are preparing actions and arguments toward a truly meaningful new agreement coming out of that meeting — to take really significant steps toward reversing the introduction of greenhouse gases like CO2 into the atmosphere, which are accelerating global warming.
The industrialized nations of the world are emitting most of these gases and have the most power and ability to reverse the trend. So these are the primary parties to the conference. Many of the developing nations of the world will be there as well. It is hoped they will also subscribe to as many greenhouse gas emission strategies as they are able, since we all suffer from global warming effects.
One of the best ways to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions is to replace fossil-fuel-fired power plants with solar-electric- and wind-powered ones, a process that has accelerated in recent years due to falling prices for solar and wind power coupled with rising prices for fossil-fuel sourced grid electricity. There is a growing number of cases in which investment in renewable energy makes much more economic sense than investing in fossil-fuel-sourced power plants.
In the U.S. and a few other countries, however, there are politically conservative opponents to the very essence of COP-21 and its goals. Some use outright anti-science arguments to try and stop the switch away from fossil fuel toward increased energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Others admit that global warming is really happening and a few even accept that much of the increase is human-caused, but they counter with a proposition that making this transition will damage the economy, meaning mainly the profits of the coal, oil, and gas companies.
The truth is that global warming consequences threaten serious damage to the Earth’s life-support system if allowed to continue for a few more decades. This problem, therefore, is an existential one, as U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders claims. It is the most serious problem facing the U.S. and all other nations of the world. (Terrorism is unlikely to cause the extinction of humanity, as long as nuclear weapons are kept away from the terrorists, but global warming, if allowed to continue unabated, surely can.)
Previously published at CounterPunch.org on 30 October 2015 Reproduced with permission.
The word is in from the wildlife biologists.
Say goodbye in North America to the gray wolf, the cougar, the grizzly bear. They are destined for extinction sometime in the next 40 years. Say goodbye to the Red wolf and the Mexican wolf and the Florida panther. Gone the jaguar, the ocelot, the wood bison, the buffalo, the California condor, the North Atlantic right whale, the Stellar sea lion, the hammerhead shark, the leatherback sea turtle. That’s just North America.
Worldwide, the largest and most charismatic animals, the last of the megafauna, our most ecologically important predators and big ungulates, the wildest wild things, will be the first to go in the anthropogenic extinction event of the Holocene Era. The tiger and leopard and the elephant and lion in Africa and Asia. The primates, the great apes, our wild cousins. The polar bears in the Arctic Sea. The shark and killer whale in every ocean.
“Extinction is now proceeding thousands of times faster than the production of new species,” biologist E.O. Wilson writes. Between 30 and 50 percent of all known species are expected to go extinct by 2050, if current trends hold. There are five other mass extinction events in the geologic record, stretching back 500 million years. But none were the result of a single species’ overreach.
I’ve found conversation with my biologist sources to be terribly dispiriting. The conversation goes like this: Homo sapiens are out of control, a bacteria boiling in the petri dish; the more of us, demanding more resources, means less space for every other life form; the solution is less of us, consuming fewer resources, but that isn’t happening. It can’t happen. Our economic system, industrial consumer capitalism, requires constant growth, more people buying more things. “I will go so far as to say [that] capitalism itself may be dependent on a growing population,” writes billionaire capitalist blogger Bill Gross, Forbes magazine’s Bond King. “Our modern era of capitalism over the past several centuries has never known a period of time in which population declined or grew less than 1% a year.” Growth for growth’s sake, what Edward Abbey called the ideology of the cancer cell. Continue reading
The Great Transition by Lester R. Brown
W. W. Norton & Company (April 20, 2015)
Review by Ross McCluney 22 OCT 2015
This is a terrific contribution from an experienced writer on environmental issues.
It has been a long struggle to bring the costs of solar energy and other renewable sources down to a point where they can actually compete in the energy marketplace, even without major government incentives.
That’s the case for wind and solar, as Brown describes so well in this new book. Other renewable energy sources are also making great strides, as are efficient buildings and efficient transportation — not to mention research accomplishments on energy storage technologies, efficient long-distance electricity grid designs, and massive new investments in green energy.
The only deficiency is the lack of graphics to support the text. But never mind that. Web searches on wave energy, tidal energy, ocean current energy, solar electric, solar thermal, energy storage, geothermal, wind turbines, electric grids, and renewable energy economics can put these images plus relevant charts and graphs at your fingertips.
For example, when I started out as a solar scientist in 1976, the holy grail in the photovoltaic world was getting the price of PV down to an amazingly low price of 50¢ per peak Watt (Wp) of electrical output. At that time the price was over $76/Wp. Take a look at this astounding bar chart of the price from 1976 to 2015.
It turns out that we passed the 50¢/Wp point in 2013 and now the price is an amazingly 30¢/Wp, thanks mainly to China’s recent burst in solar equipment manufacturing, aided along the way by the United States, Japan, and Germany. Continue reading