Monday, March 31, 2014

Think About It

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued several papers in the last few weeks. One is from working group II and the other from working group III.  Of all the sobering news within them, one bright light is this:

IPCC climate change report: averting catastrophe is eminently affordable  
The Guardian  by David Carrington 
Landmark UN analysis concludes global roll-out of clean energy would shave only a tiny fraction off economic growth

Catastrophic climate change can be averted without sacrificing living standards according to a UN report, which concludes that the transformation required to a world of clean energy is eminently affordable.

It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” said economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team.

The cheapest and least risky route to dealing with global warming is to abandon all dirty fossil fuels in coming decades, the report found. Gas – including that from the global fracking boom – could be important during the transition, Edenhofer said, but only if it replaced coal burning.

The authoritative report, produced by 1,250 international experts and approved by 194 governments, dismisses fears that slashing carbon emissions would wreck the world economy. It is the final part of a trilogy that has already shown that climate change is “unequivocally” caused by humans and that, unchecked, it poses a grave threat to people and could lead to wars and mass migration.

Diverting hundred of billions of dollars from fossil fuels into renewable energy and cutting energy waste would shave just 0.06% off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%, the IPCC report concluded.

The report is clear: the more you wait, the more it will cost [and] the more difficult it will become,” said EU commissioner Connie Hedegaard. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said: “This report is a wake-up call about global economic opportunity we can seize today as we lead on climate change.”

The UK’s energy and climate secretary, Ed Davey, said: “The [report shows] the tools we need to tackle climate change are available, but international efforts need to significantly increase.” clip

It is actually affordable to do it and people are not going to have to sacrifice their aspirations about improved standards of living,” said Professor Jim Skea, an energy expert at Imperial College London and co-chair of the IPCC report team. “It is not a hair shirt change of lifestyle at all that is being envisaged and there is space for poorer countries to develop too,” Skea told the Guardian.

Nonetheless, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change at the lowest cost, the report envisages an energy revolution ending centuries of dominance by fossil fuels – which will require significant political and commercial change. On Thursday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for an anti-apartheid style campaign against ­fossil fuel companies, which he blames for the “injustice” of climate change."  more

In Austin, Texas, Austin Energy is poised such that by the end of next year, 1 in 3 Kwhs used by the customers of the 8th largest public utility in the country will be renewable.  And when when you include 15 years of efficiency programs, almost 50 % of the energy is either renewable or efficiency.

And in presenting the most recent purchases of windpower and solar, the utility states that the purchases will actually reduce costs.

As reported by Renewable Energy World:

"The Austin, Texas, City Council approved a wind power contract Feb. 27 that enables Austin Energy to achieve its goal of delivering 35 percent of all of its electricity from renewable sources four years ahead of its goal, the utility said in a news release. 

The contract with Lincoln Renewable Energy calls for Austin Energy to buy up to 300 MW of wind power for 18 years for $31 million a year. The price for the wind power is in the $26-to-$36/MWh price range, making it the least expensive wind purchase Austin Energy has ever entered into since it began contracting for wind power in the late 1990s.

The price is also lower than the $32/MWh average cost for all power in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in 2013 and will not increase customer bills, the utility said.

And within a few weeks of that purchase, Austin Energy announced a 150 MW SOLAR Deal:

"Texas utility Austin Energy is going to be paying 5 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar power, and it could mean lower customer rates.

City-owned Austin Energy is about to sign a 25-year PPA with Sun Edison for 150 megawatts of solar power at "just below" 5 cents per kilowatt-hour. The power will come from two West Texas solar facilities, according to reports in the Austin American-Statesman. According to reports, around 30 proposals were at prices near SunEdison’s.

Austin Energy has suggested that the PV deal will slightly lower rates for customers." Greentech

So based on these most recent purchases, the UN Report is now dated.

Moving to protect the planet now through large scale deployment of well orchestrated renewable energy plants will actually save money.

So, as the fossil fuel commercials say,

Think about it.


Earthfamily Principles

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Here’s a milestone to mark. Solar power is apparently going to be sold to Austin Energy for a tiny bit less than 5¢/kWh under a new 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with SunEdison. Austin Energy says the deal will even lower electric rates a bit.

Here’s a milestone to mark. Solar power is apparently going to be sold to Austin Energy for a tiny bit less than 5¢/kWh under a new 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with SunEdison. Austin Energy says the deal will even lower electric rates a bit.

Here’s a milestone to mark. Solar power is apparently going to be sold to Austin Energy for a tiny bit less than 5¢/kWh under a new 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with SunEdison. Austin Energy says the deal will even lower electric rates a bit.

Here’s a milestone to mark. Solar power is apparently going to be sold to Austin Energy for a tiny bit less than 5¢/kWh under a new 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with SunEdison. Austin Energy says the deal will even lower electric rates a bit.
It’s from no small project either. It’s from two solar power plants totaling 150-megawatts of capacity — a 350,000-panel, 100-megawatt facility; and a 150,000-panel, 50-megawatt facility nearby.
Oh, by the way, this wasn’t the only proposal Austin Energy received. It beat out about 30 other solar power proposals. Needless to say, competition is a brewin’ in Texas!
“Austin Energy is poised to sign what could be the world’s cheapest solar-power deal,” Marty Toohey of wrote.

Here’s a milestone to mark. Solar power is apparently going to be sold to Austin Energy for a tiny bit less than 5¢/kWh under a new 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with SunEdison. Austin Energy says the deal will even lower electric rates a bit.
It’s from no small project either. It’s from two solar power plants totaling 150-megawatts of capacity — a 350,000-panel, 100-megawatt facility; and a 150,000-panel, 50-megawatt facility nearby.
Oh, by the way, this wasn’t the only proposal Austin Energy received. It beat out about 30 other solar power proposals. Needless to say, competition is a brewin’ in Texas!
“Austin Energy is poised to sign what could be the world’s cheapest solar-power deal,” Marty Toohey of wrote.


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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Moving On

I'm going to get a Distinguished Service Award from the Mayor Pro Tem today.

I will probably say something like this:

Thank you Mayor Pro Tem.

And thank you Council

I am deeply honored and moved by your kindness.

As Mark Twain said, It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.

I like this better. For In this case a lot of folks deserve this honor.

For what we have achieved at Austin Energy over the last dozen or so years is truly remarkable.  Achieving our renewable goals of 35% five years early, without rate shock is something we can all be proud of.

I thank Manager Garza, Manager Duncan, and our current Manager Larry Weis for their leadership in this regard.  I’m grateful to City Manager Ott and I applaud the Council.  Mayor Wynn and Mayor Leffingwell’s support have been critical.

And I thank the Environmentalists and the Consumeristas who have helped keep our eyes on the prize. And of course I thank and credit all my colleagues at Austin Energy who have worked to make much of our climate protection plan a reality. 

And of course,  I love the support that I get from my partner Dr. Dana Sprute, and the inspiration that I get from my son and grandson, Solomon Osborne and Alexander Osborne.

I love this Town. 

I love the people, our spirit, and our weirdness.

Even it that means we have Leslies and Ronny Reeferseeds.

There is always more work to do, more late night hearings, more controversy, and I look forward to playing whatever role I can in furthering a future that my grandson will thank us all for.

Thank you and thanks to all of my friends and colleagues who have joined us here today.  And We’ll head somewhere from here… so stay tuned.

Last week a reporter published this in our influential local city politics newsletter:

February 11, 2014
Renewable energy pioneer retires from Austin Energy
By Bill McCann

Michael Osborne, long-time entrepreneur, author, and renewable-energy pioneer in Texas, is turning another page in his storied career.

Over the past four decades, Osborne has built energy-friendly homes; developed the first wind farm in Texas; helped form the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association, marketed solar and wind equipment around the state, and found time to write four books.

Now 64, his long gray hair still sporting a ponytail, Osborne announced he is retiring this month from Austin Energy, where he has played a key role in the utility’s nationally recognized renewable-energy efforts over the past 12 years. Actually, Osborne doesn’t care for the word “retire.” He prefers to call it moving on to the next phase of his life. He plans to write another book or two and stay involved with two of his passions, renewable energy and climate change.

“I think I’m leaving at a good time as Austin Energy is close to achieving the renewable energy goals that the City Council assigned to us,” Osborne said. “When you are getting to be 65, you don’t think about 15-year projects any more.”

He was referring to successful efforts in recent years to lock in long-term agreements for Austin Energy to purchase renewable energy, mainly wind power from West and South Texas.  Most recently he has been working on a deal for the utility to purchase energy from a planned solar plant at a price he said could be a “game-changer” for solar power in Texas. The project is expected to be announced this spring.

“Few of the most significant policy and business developments that have moved the marker forward for renewable energy in Texas didn’t have Michael Osborne’s hand in them,” said Russel Smith, executive director of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association. “In the man-made world things don’t happen unless someone first imagines they can. When stuck in ‘same old, same old’ we’re told you’ve got to think outside the box. I’m not sure Michael was ever in the box.”

Osborne believes his biggest challenge, and accomplishment, has been helping to get Austin Energy in position to achieve the Council goal to obtain 35 percent of the city’s energy needs with renewables by 2020. He is confident the utility will meet that goal by the end of next year, with five years to spare.

“We are going to meet the goal, not only without causing rate shock, but being able to reduce energy costs,” Osborne said. “The timing had been perfect. We bought wind in a buyer’s market and now we may have the same opportunity with solar.”

Currently, Austin Energy has contracts calling for the purchase up to 850 megawatts of wind energy,with another 400 megawatts scheduled to go on line in the next two years. The utility also has agreements to purchase up to 30 megawatts of solar from a privately owned plant near Webberville, and purchase 100 megawatts from a plant that burns wood wastes in East Texas, Osborne said. In addition, local homes and businesses have installed another 20 megawatts of rooftop solar units.

“Right now close to 25 percent of the energy that Austin Energy provides (to its customers) all the time is generated from renewable sources and some days it’s over 50 percent,” Osborne said. “We have come a long way.”

Born in Amarillo, Osborne played in two rock-and-roll bands that entertained the local youth center’s Friday night dances when he was in junior high and high school. He played guitar, bass guitar and piano.

At The University of Texas at Austin, Osborne majored in aerospace engineering, then business (marketing) until he walked away one semester short of a degree after a business school dean denied him project credit for an advertising agency he had started on the side. After he withdrew from school, his agency focused on marketing such music venues as the long-gone Armadillo World Headquarters, Castle Creek and Mother Earth in the early 1970s. He also promoted a singer named Willie Nelson.

Then, influenced by architect, inventor and philosopher Buckminster Fuller, who believed in the importance of renewable energy, Osborne decided to take his marketing skills in another direction. He turned to the energy business in the late ‘70s, building passive solar homes and selling energy-saving wood stoves. In 1981, he developed the first wind energy project that sold energy to a utility in Texas. The project, built near Pampa in the Texas Panhandle, consisted of five 25-kilowatt wind turbines.

In 1983, he signed on as the first distributor in Texas for Solarex, a now-defunct maker of solar cells used then as power sources for such things as ranch gates, railroad signals and other places where stringing power lines was difficult or expensive. In the 90s, Osborne began focusing on wind energy. He ran the Texas operations for Zond Energy, which is now part of General Electric, the largest U.S. wind turbine maker.

In 2002 Osborne was hired on at Austin Energy, initially under a federal-state grant to write a long-term comprehensive energy plan.  The plan, called Silver in the Mine, was published in 2003. Subsequently he worked with former general manager Roger Duncan in developing a successful national campaign to get the automakers to support mass production of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

For the past five years Osborne has had the title of special assistant to the general manager for energy development, with a number of responsibilities including meeting the 35 percent renewable energy goal.

“Michael Osborne is the primary force behind Austin Energy reaching its 35 percent renewable energy goal ahead of schedule,” Duncan said. “His vision and knowledge of wind and solar generation has been invaluable to AE. Austin owes him for our national leadership in renewables.”

Osborne’s current boss, Austin Energy General Manager Larry Weis, praised his work as well.

“Michael is a real visionary, a dreamer with great ideas,” Weis said. “He has been a big help to me, especially when I first got here. He has been a good counselor and confidante, and a good friend.”

What’s next?  One of the things Osborne is considering is writing a book on climate change and the growing need to unite the public to force development of a plan to deal with the issue.

‘People who deny climate change fail to recognize the combined statements of all of the national academies of science of every nation on Earth that it is real,” Osborne said. “Arguments by the deniers will not change the physics.

I think I'm most happy with the last line.  I've been practicing that for a long time and used to say that "opinions  won't change the science."


Friday, January 31, 2014

Hiatus Shmiatus

It's hard being an R these days.

You have to believe in a lot of weird stuff.  You have to believe that the world is 6,000 years old, that violated women can willfully keep from getting pregnant, that the system of health care that came from one of your  own think tanks can't possibly work, that making rich people richer makes everyone else richer too, that black is white, and up is down.

But the most unfortunate belief you must have to be a Republican these days is to believe that Climate Change is a hoax, that there is debate about the science, that the jury is still out, that God will protect us.

To back up your belief, you must recite that the earth has actually been cooling since 1998, one of the hottest years on record.

Here is  the story on that from the radical USA TODAY.

NOAA: Earth had its 4th-warmest year on record in 2013 
All of the top 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.
USA TODAY  January 22, 2014

The Earth had its fourth-warmest year on record in 2013, equaling the level set in 2003, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Tuesday.

The average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.12 degrees above the 20th-century average and marks the 37th consecutive year (since 1976) that the annual temperature was above the long-term average.

All of the top 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998. The warmest year on record was 2010, NOAA reported. (clip)

This was one of the warmest years on record that did not include the warming influence of an El Nino climate pattern, according to Thomas Karl, director of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. 

Australia recorded its warmest year on record, while both Japan and South Korea endured their hottest summers on record.

While most of the world had warmer-than-average year, some areas were cooler than average last year, Karl said, including parts of the central USA, which was the only land area where that occurred.

As for sea ice, while the Arctic had its sixth-smallest extent on record, sea ice was the largest on record in Antarctica. Sea ice records go back to 1979.

NASA, using different methods of analyzing temperature data than NOAA, reported Tuesday that 2013 tied as seventh-warmest year on record."

In September, the International Panel on Climate Change came out with their fifth assessment.  In the first two pages of the Executive Summmary, it says in red:
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
 In the next paragraph it says:
Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850 . In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years.
But in all fairness, there has been a small decline in the warming in the last little bit.  Some scientists think the warming of the air has continued but because much of it is happening in the far north, where warming has accelerated and stations are few, the warming is not counted adequately.

Others think that the oceans have begun to take on the heat.  Fact is, the oceans have always taken on the lion's share of the heat.

This is from Weather Underground:

World's Oceans Got a Lot Warmer In 2013

By: By Terrell Johnson
Published: February 5, 2014

Global ocean temperatures rose dramatically last year, providing another strong sign that the oft-cited global warming "pause" or "hiatus" since 2000 has happened only at the surface – while the rest of the planet has been heating up at an increasingly rapid pace.

This chart from NOAA's National Oceanographic Data Center shows the rise in global ocean heat content in the upper 2,000 meters (the top 6,500 feet) of the oceans since the mid 1950s, with the sharpest rise occurring since about 1990:

As you'll see at the left side of the chart, the ocean's heat is measured in joules, a unit of energy. Over the past 55 years, the global ocean has warmed at a rate of about 136 trillion joules per second, a pace that's been compared to the amount of energy released by two Hiroshima atomic bombs – every second.

In more recent years, that pace has quickened to about 250 trillion joules per second, or roughly four atomic bombs per second. And in 2013, that pace accelerated even more, roughly tripling to about 12 atomic bombs per second.

This is significant because, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes in its 2013 report, the world's oceans are absorbing more than 90 percent of the rise in heat stored by the climate system over the past few decades – far more than land, ice, or the atmosphere, which stores only about 2 percent of the excess heat.

That means that global average surface temperature measurements, which have showed a slowdown in warming since about 2000, are just one indicator of how much and how quickly the planet is warming.

As the IPCC points out, there are a slew of other measurements – like the increasingly rapid melting of the world's glacial ice, Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet – that demonstrate how misleading that one indicator can be if we look at it in isolation."

Someday it will be even harder to be a Republican.  It's one thing to hold onto a fairy tale about the age of the earth and the universe that surrounds it.  Nobody gets hurt too bad.  You can even argue that trickle down economics might possibly work, even though we know better. The result is further distance between the top and bottom among us.

But when the R's deny climate change, they are engaging in a reckless endangerment of our species that will not be well regarded in the not-so-distant horizon.

Their trials will be short.

Their punishments will be long.

Best not to be a Young Republican.


Earthfamily Principles

top graph courtesy of skeptical science



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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Entire Kooky Family

I'm not exactly sure when we decided but it was about nine months ago.

My partner's step daughter was about to graduate from Saint Ed's and she had always imagined herself going to Europe when she did.

So we decided to make it happen. We would take my son, my grandson, Dana's stepdaughter and  her partner to Paris...the entire Kooky family

Making it happen took a lot of effort.  One, none of these guys had passports.  Until you have your passport, getting one seems to be a lot harder than it really is. In the case of my son and grandson, we just hired a professional to get it done.

Since I was 17, Paris has been a favorite place for me.  Two ex-wives have lived there, and I think I have visited the city 14 times since my first visit in 1967.  Perhaps it was my ancestor great great great grandfather who was a Doctor in Paris during the mid 1800s that tuned my circuits to the place, I don't know, but I do know that I resonate well with the place and I know a lot about it.

So what better trip to Paris and London than with Grandad who can tell you about how Napoleon first went under the Arc de Triomphe with his second bride, or how he was brought through it when he was moved to his tomb in the Invalides some 30 years later? 

Who better to show the axis that runs from the Palace, through the Tuileries and the Plaza Concorde up the Champs Elysees to the Etoile and all the way out to the great arch at Le Defense?

As we made our trip plans, we decided to spend New Years in London and chunnel the whole group there on the Eurostar at almost 200 miles per hour. On New Years day evening, we saw the National Theatre production of War Horse at the New London Theatre.  Except for the food in Paris, and the street theater, it was the highlight of the trip.

I wanted my son Solomon and grandson Alexander to see how sophisticated and smart life can be and NOT be American.

Nakita got her graduation gift and her partner Nicole discovered Croque Madames.

I think they got it.

Here is the video


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Friday, November 22, 2013

A Bad Dream

Fifty years ago, I woke up and made my way downstairs where my mother was fixing me breakfast.  "They're going to kill President Kennedy today in Dallas," I said.  My mom turned around and said, "No honey, why would you say that?"

"I dreamed it this morning."

"Well that was just a bad dream,"  she said.

I went upstairs and got dressed and got ready for school.  It was a bright sunny day.  As I piled into Mrs. Goodlett's car, I made my proclamation again.

"They are going to kill the president in Dallas today."  Mrs Goodlett turned around and looked at me in the back seat.

"Why would you say that?" she said.

"Because they are," I replied.

All of my other schoolmates just looked at me.  They didn't know the President was going to be in Dallas.  They barely knew who the President was, other than some damn Catholic from the Northeast.

I didn't tell any one else.

But that afternoon when the news came, I was not surprised.  I was vindicated.  It was much later before I would become full of sadness. There was also a haunting growing degree of guilt.  I could have done more. I was fourteen, and as a boy living in the hyper conservative  Texas Panhandle, I suppose it would be wrong to say that folks were sad.  They weren't.  After all, now we would have a Texas President.

Still, my family watched the events of the next few days on my grandfather's new color TV set as if we had just witnessed one of the most important events of our lifetimes.  While we were driving from Pampa to Canadian to join my grandparents, Frank Ruby shot and killed Oswald.  When we arrived,  they were showing the reruns over and over and over. For a while some of us were confusing the microphone to be Ruby's gun.

"How can they let that happen?" we said to each other.

After that, I could not take my eyes off of the events that were unfolding.  For I watched every moment of the funeral with cute John John, and the austere parade with that strong horse who seemed to want to run off with that Marine and those boots placed in the saddle going the wrong way.

It was then that I finally cried.

For I knew that something really terrible had just happened not to just the Kennedys, or to the country, but to us all.  And everyone else on the planet seemed to know it too.

Perhaps the best carrier of the torch of this extinguished hope is Robert F Kennedy Jr.   Here is the opening of his latest piece in Rolling Stone.  It's worth a full read.


November 20, 2013 12:30 PM ET

On November 22nd, 1963, my uncle, president John F. Kennedy, went to Dallas intending to condemn as "nonsense" the right-wing notion that "peace is a sign of weakness." He meant to argue that the best way to demonstrate American strength was not by using destructive weapons and threats but by being a nation that "practices what it preaches about equal rights and social justice," striving toward peace instead of "aggressive ambitions."

Despite the Cold War rhetoric of his campaign, JFK's greatest ambition as president was to break the militaristic ideology that has dominated our country since World War II. He told his close friend Ben Bradlee that he wanted the epitaph "He kept the peace," and said to another friend, William Walton, "I am almost a 'peace at any price' president." Hugh Sidey, a journalist and friend, wrote that the governing aspect of JFK's leadership was "a total revulsion" of war. Nevertheless, as James W. Douglass argues in his book JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, JFK's presidency would be a continuous struggle with his own military and intelligence agencies, which engaged in incessant schemes to trap him into escalating the Cold War into a hot one.

His first major confrontation with the Pentagon, the Bay of Pigs catastrophe, came only three months into his presidency and would set the course for the next 1,000 days. clip

Toward the end of the piece, RFK writes:

On October 10th, after signing the atmospheric-test-ban treaty, Khrushchev sent JFK the last of his personal letters. In that missive, Khrushchev proposed the next steps for ending the Cold War. He recommended the conclusion of a nonaggression pact between the NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations, and a number of steps to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and prevent their use in surprise attacks. JFK would never see the letter. State Department officials hostile toward Khrushchev intercepted it. more

As a young boy, my politics had not really formed yet.  My mother's family were rancher /banker/ Republicans and my father's family were cattle feeding/farmer/Democrats.  At one time, the aunt on my father's side was the district committee woman for the Democrats and my aunt on my mother's side was district committeewoman for the Rs. Both of them went to their respective national conventions in 1964.  One supporting Goldwater, the other Johnson

I loved staying up with my Aunt til four in the morning smoking her Parliaments with the funny filters talking about politics and the future of this country and the world.  But that was before 24 hour news killed the news, before cable, before wedge issues, sound bites, and talking heads.

Before the Bad Dream.

So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.
Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms—and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.
Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.
Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah—to "undo the heavy burdens ... and to let the oppressed go free."
And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.
All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

The City of Light

Towards the end of September, I found myself on a plane heading to Charles de Gaule airport. I had accepted an invitation to speak at the Global Eco Cities Conference in Nante, France. It seemed simple enough.  The invitation came through the US Embassy in Paris.

Instead of flying straight to Paris from Houston, (and if you want to fly United, the old Continental) you now have to go through Chicago, Newark, or Washington DC.  That's right.  Continental buys United and the third largest city in the US loses direct flights from its so called home hub. That means that it now takes at least 2 more hours to fly to Paris than it used to, and coming back through DC adds another 2 on top of that.  I'm going to write a letter to that CEO of United about it some day. Tell him about the agony of the lower upper class and how we suffer because of his cost cutting.

As the trip began to come together it became clear that I would speaking with folks from Portland and Washington DC.  And we would be paired with cities in France.  A few days before I left, the actual itinerary arrived.  We were also going to Bordeaux, then Nantes, then Angers, and finally Paris. The day before I left, I got the final program.  It was full it seemed.

I landed in CDG airport and soon found out that the global MIFI from Verizon was not working. Europe has pretty crummy free wireless, so I found the bar at the Sheraton and paid the front desk about 20.00 dollars to get on line.  As I tried to use my email, difficulties started to arise.  My gmail account was suddenly locked down.  I got a message saying I had been locked out due to someone in Paris trying to sign in on my account.

When I tried to fix it, it didn't work.   So I went to my back up email account.  It too had a message from gmail saying my account was locked up because someone in Paris was trying to get their email.

That email had a different link to reopen the locked account and after an hour or so I got my gmail account going again.  Until then, Skype was the only communication link I had.  Predictably, the second account went down because of this person from Paris trying to gain access into the account.  It's a lot like buying tickets to Mexico  on your United card and then having your United card go dead because someone from Mexico is trying to use your card.  This kind of cyber incompetence somehow makes me feel better though.  I doubt the NSA is any better.

All of this keeps me busy and its not that long (3 hours) before I need to take the TGV to Bordeaux.  France isn't that big, TGV's are really fast, and so how long could it take?

Four and half hours.

I meet up with my future delegation member from Portland on the train.  She is about 24 hours into the trip as I now am.  When we get to Bordeaux, we finally hail a cab but only after several Bordeauleans let us know we don't know what we are doing.  It was then that the cabbie grabbed my overstuffed bag by the extension handle and broke it as he loaded it into the trunk. As the sun lights up the sky in the west though, we find ourselves in the center of a very clean old city.

Our Hotel is actually pretty nice for a Best Western.   Yes, I said Best Western. And the lady at the desk speaks good English.  Unfortunately, she gives me a weird electric converter and it makes my Apple power supply spark, so my battery begins to run all the way down.  The internet does work though.  I call Dana and tell her I'm safely arrived and ask her to call Verizon to get my personal wifi going.  She does, and Verizon calls and we all try real hard to get the Verizon plan I bought to work on the Verizon  equipment they sold me.  The Verizon guy actually felt like they had failed and actually offered me $100.00 to get some temporary European service.   Not possible of course.

I leave my hotel room and go outside.  I walk down a narrow street.   It opens up.  There are restaurants, open spaces, public art, trams, pedestrians, bars, beautiful streets, brasseries by the tens, and I go in one.

The maitre de offers me a table.  I quit drinking red wine about three years ago, but it seemed pretty silly to be in Bordeaux and not drink Bordeaux.

That small demibottle of vin de maison was perhaps the best bottle of wine I have ever had.

I could feel the stars uncrossing.

The next morning we started early as Toby the US Embassy Consul in Bordeaux took charge with his consul staffers Antonia and Sophie.  We took the bus out of town to see an electric car charger manufacturer.  Then we visited a wind developer.  We ate in a turn of the century natatorium. The day was not full, it was pregnant.  We saw parks, brown field redevelopment, downtown restorations.  We met with regional officials, local officials, various development agencies.

Then we ate dinner on that very wide River as the guests of those agencies. And it was good.

I walked home past the Boarse, the theatre plaza, the magnificent Hotel Bordeaux and the Apple store somewhere before eleven.  My Best Western room looked pretty good.

The next day we met with a dozen or so NGO's.  My little translator head phone apparatus was now becoming second nature.  After a quick lunch, we said goodby to our hosts from Bordeaux and entered the small airport,  headed for Nantes, where the global eco conference was just starting.

Our hosts there were the foreign service staff and consul from Rennes, but Nantes and Angers were in their service area.  Once again our schedule was about as dense as a presidential campaign.  But we did get to see the incredible giant machines of Nantes.

The conference was good, but oddly not well produced.  Our conferences in the US are much better and the facilities and production values are much higher.  From Nantes we drove to Angers where we met the Mayor.  Angers is a sister city of Austin and I had a short message from my Mayor for their Mayor.  There in the home of the Plantagenets, a whole new form of diplomacy was invented as their Mayor recorded a message too.

On the fourth day of our trip, we finally arrived in Paris.  I know Paris, so I didn't wait for the Diplomatic car at the train station.  That caused a little bit of a stir.

In the next two days, in presidential campaign fury, we worked as if the election was tomorrow. We did a press conference in the American Embassy.  I met our Ambassador.  Late on Friday, we walked out of the Hotel de Ville after meeting with the Vice Mayor of Paris unveiling their plans for dealing with climate change. It is a treat beyond measure to talk with officials who actually intend to respond to the challenges ahead with intelligence and ample resources.

I was exhausted.

I was in Paris.

I met my old good friend Jim Haynes at Fajitas on Rue Dalphine.

The owner had some really good Tequila.

I was at home abroad.

And the City of Light was shining.


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Monday, August 19, 2013

The Fukushima Legacy

More and more news from Fukushima is dribbling out into the world in the last few weeks.  And the situation is just as dire or even more so than when the event was in the news more than two years ago.  Yes perhaps the greatest lie of all time on this story was the cold shut down announcement that was carried by just about everybody.

Well, perhaps not everybody.  Arnie Gunderson still reports on it often.

And then there is this from the Scientific American:

Here is what you need to know about the radioactive water leaking from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.
 Scientists on both sides of the Pacific have measured changing levels of radioactivity in fish and other ocean life since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. On Aug. 2, 2013, when Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) gave its first estimate of how much radioactive water from the nuclear plant has flowed into the ocean since the disaster, the company was finally facing up to what scientists have recognized for years.
 "As an oceanographer looking at the reactor, we've known this since 2011," said Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Mass. "The news is TEPCO is finally admitting this."
 TEPCO estimated that between 20 trillion and 40 trillion becquerels (units of radioactivity representing decay per second) of radioactive tritium have leaked into the ocean since the disaster, according to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. The Fukushima plant is still leaking about 300 tons of radioactive water into the ocean every day, according to Japanese government officials. [Infographic: Inside Japan's Nuclear Reactors]
 Japan is haunted by two lingering questions from this aftermath of the disaster: First, how the radioactivity might seriously contaminate ocean life that represents a source of seafood for humans; second, whether it can stop the leaks of radioactive water from the Fukushima plant. more
But the real story is not just these two issues.

The real story is much more dire.  Fukushima is now and always has been in a state of emergency.

The upshot is that the Fukushima disaster is not only far worse than you've been told; it's very likely going to be worse than you could ever imagine. The radiation leak isn't plugged, in other words, and another explosion -- which many experts believe might be imminent -- would release thousands of times more nuclear material into the open environment.
Ultimately, the entire Northern hemisphere has been placed at risk by a bunch of corporate bureaucrats who thought building a nuclear facility in the path of a sure-to-happen tidal wave was a fantastic idea. Instead of acknowledging the problem and working to fix it like a responsible person would, our world's top politicians and ass-coverers have decided it is in their best short-term interests to play along with the TEPCO fairy tale which ridiculously pretends that radioactive leaks can be controlled by wishful thinking. more
Now even according to TEPCO, we have a crisis.

And as bad as the polluting of the Pacific Ocean is, the real worry comes with the management of the spent fuel rods.  This from RT News:

Even the tiniest mistake during an operation to extract over 1,300 fuel rods at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan could lead to a series of cascading failures with an apocalyptic outcome, fallout researcher Christina Consolo told RT.
Fukushima operator TEPCO wants to extract 400 tons worth of spent fuel rods stored in a pool at the plant’s damaged Reactor No. 4. The removal would have to be done manually from the top store of the damaged building in the radiation-contaminated environment.
In the worst-case scenario, a mishandled rod may go critical, resulting in an above-ground meltdown releasing radioactive fallout with no way to stop it, said Consolo, who is the founder and host of Nuked Radio. But leaving the things as they are is not an option, because statistical risk of a similarly bad outcome increases every day, she said.

RT: How serious is the fuel rod situation compared to the danger of contaminated water build-up which we already know about?

Christina Consolo: Although fuel rod removal happens on a daily basis at the 430+ nuclear sites around the world, it is a very delicate procedure even under the best of circumstances. What makes fuel removal at Fukushima so dangerous and complex is that it will be attempted on a fuel pool whose integrity has been severely compromised
However, it must be attempted as Reactor 4 has the most significant problems structurally, and this pool is on the top floor of the building.

There are numerous other reasons that this will be a dangerous undertaking:

- The racks inside the pool that contain this fuel were damaged by the explosion in the early days of the accident.

- Zirconium cladding which encased the rods burned when water levels dropped, but to what extent the rods have been damaged is not known, and probably won't be until removal is attempted.

- Saltwater cooling has caused corrosion of the pool walls, and probably the fuel rods and racks.

- The building is sinking.

- The cranes that normally lift the fuel were destroyed.

- Computer-guided removal will not be possible; everything will have to be done manually.

- TEPCO cannot attempt this process without humans, which will manage this enormous task while being bombarded with radiation during the extraction and casking.

- The process of removing each rod will have to be repeated over 1,300 times without incident.

- Moving damaged nuclear fuel under such complex conditions could result in a criticality if the rods come into close proximity to one another, which would then set off a chain reaction that cannot be stopped.

What could potentially happen is the contents of the pool could burn and/or explode, and the entire structure sustain further damage or collapse. This chain reaction process could be self-sustaining and go on for a long time.

This is the apocalyptic scenario in a nutshell.

The world should not allow TEPCO to do this work without the help of the very best among us.  The US  should force Japan to bring in the Russians, bring in the Brits, bring in the French.

Cleaning up Fukushima must and will become a global project.

For Fukushima, will bring about a global  legacy.

One legacy will deliver us from the brink of this nuclear madness.

The other Legacy will bring us to the edge of extinction.

 And that Legacy must not prevail.


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