Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Merchants of Doubt



















I started reading Merchants of Doubt in anticipation of the new movie that was released in March. The book by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway is so beautifully written, it hardly reads like a science book, but a science book it is.  But it is so much more.  It puts into focus how this country has been bamboozled into two decades of denial and inaction on not only the most pressing issue of our time, but also other critically important issues that demanded regulatory attention due to market failure.

And those failures of course are legend.

This from Wikipedia:

Oreskes and Conway write that a handful of politically conservative scientists, with strong ties to particular industries, have "played a disproportionate role in debates about controversial questions".[5] The authors write that this has resulted in "deliberate obfuscation" of the issues which has had an influence on public opinion and policy-making.[5]

The book criticizes the so-called Merchants of Doubt, some predominantly American science key players, above all Bill Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Fred Singer. All three are physicists: Singer was a rocket scientist, whereas Nierenberg and Seitz worked on the atomic bomb.[6] They have been active on topics like acid rain, tobacco smoking, global warming and pesticides. The book claims that these scientists have challenged and diluted the scientific consensus in the various fields, as of the dangers of smoking, the effects of acid rain, the existence of the ozone hole, and the existence of anthropogenic climate change.[5]

Seitz and Singer helped to form institutions such as the Heritage Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute and Marshall Institute in the United States. Funded by corporations and conservative foundations, these organizations have opposed many forms of state intervention or regulation of U.S. citizens. The book lists similar tactics in each case: "discredit the science, disseminate false information, spread confusion, and promote doubt"

In seven compelling chapters addressing tobacco, acid rain, the ozone hole, global warming, and DDT, Oreskes and Conway roll back the rug on this dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how the ideology of free market fundamentalism, aided by a too-compliant media, has skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.

The movie however, which finally came to our home town for a very short stand was good, but not great. Rotten Tomatoes describes it:
    
Filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the curtain on a secretive group of highly charismatic, silver-tongued pundits-for-hire who present themselves in the media as scientific authorities - yet have the contrary aim of spreading maximum confusion about well-studied public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to pharmaceuticals to climate change.
I'm generally not one of those people who says that the book was better than the movie.  But it was.  It tells a much more in depth and sinister tale.

The book tells a story about Al Gore's professor who turned him on to the whole climate change story when he was in college.  Towards the end of his life, one of our villains, Fred Singer, asked  professor Reveille to co-write a paper  with him.  He agreed, but soon thereafter he had a stroke and his health began to falter.  Even then, Reveille made notes on Singer's paper which Singer never included or changed.

Soon after the passing of Al Gore's mentor, the bogus Singer report was published in a non peer reviewed journal.  Its key take away was that there is no need to act now on Climate Change....something Reveille never said nor ever believed.  Yet, the Merchants of Doubt hung that nonstatement around Al Gore like a necklace of Dove Turds.  These people are not just liars....they are mean.

Their belief in the efficacy of the free market  and its importance to a free society in general, over our ability to save ourselves through joint action other than in war is folly, and folly of a high order.

Because you see, according to Fred Singer, an environmentalist is a watermelon...green on the outside and red on the inside.

The merchants of doubt on the other hand are white men with black hearts.



Anyone concerned about the state of democracy in America should read this book.”—Former Vice President Al Gore







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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Stromer Spondylosis






















After our nice trip to the left coast, I came home to wrestle with a condition that I had never heard of.  I had lumbar spondylosis, bacically, a herniated disc.  And as for pain, on a 10 scale, it was an 11.  It occured in a  bicycle accident event when I adjusted my seat height too high. Yes, that's it. I didn't fall, I just extended my left leg a little too much to keep from falling.

My partner and I had just purchased some really cool electric bikes called Stromers.  They don't have a little throttle like my last electric bike  (an A to B), they have a little computer on them where you set the amount of power you want when you apply energy to the pedals.  And its very satisfying.  You end up riding more or less effortlessly depending on the setting ranging from eco to power.  In a crowded urban roadway, these Stromers are the best, fastest way to travel.  And their 22 mile per hour speed is plenty fast.

So, once we got back from the coast, my partner suggested we get some images.  That seemed reasonable.  And thus I got my first MRI.  MRIs are curiously noisy.  And after about 25 minutes in that long donut, I was more than ready to get out of there. Later that day I looked up MRI and found out that it was invented by a guy named Damadian.  Raymond Vahan Damadian was a violin player who just happened to figure out that potassium ions might provide image potential. This from Wikepedia:

Damadian's early work on NMR concerned investigating potassium ions inside cells.[8] He found that the potassium relaxation times were much shorter compared with aqueous solutions of potassium ions. This suggested that potassium was not free but complexed to ‘fixed-charge’ counter-ions, as he had previously determined.


Damadian predicted that cancerous cells would have longer relaxation times, both because of the disordering of malignant cells and because of their elevated potassium levels.

Curiously, others got the nobel prize for his discovery.

And so thanks to Raymond and the rest of his cohorts, I got to see my spine like never before.

Now, let me set it straight.  I have had a bad back ever since the time I was coming down a 500 foot cliff in Colorado and the last ledge before we got to the ground broke off with me on it.  It was a  good thing actually, because a few moments before there were five other 14 year olds on that ledge with me.  As the the ledge broke off, I turned and tried to find something on the cliff to hold on to.   After a few seconds of doing my best impression of Wylie Coyote, I pushed off, opened my arms into flight mode and glided to the earth like a rock.  Remarkably, I walked away.

Ever since that fall in the mountains of Colorado, I've known I had a trick back.  And fifty years later, after running 10 K a day for twenty years or so, and running and working out more than most folks for another 10 years, I got to see the pictures of that day thanks to Ray and my new neurosurgeon Dr. White.

Dr White told me to forget about doing anything other than resting.

And for the month of February that is what I did.

And I am better.

Might even try the Stromer in May.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Santa Las Vegas





















We spent the Christmas Holidays in Santa Monica and Las Vegas this year.

My son was turning 40 and he couldn't decide what he wanted to do.

Venice, New York, Paris?

They are all in Las Vegas.

I have always loved Santa Monica and have never really been to Las Vegas.

It always seemed a little icky to me.

Here is my version of it.

You can google it by searching Michael Osborne and Family do Las Vegas.

The Fireworks at the end are pretty cool.


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Monday, December 22, 2014

Doing it Right


It was the last meeting of the Austin City Council of 2014.  There were more than 200 items on the agenda.  And not only was it the last meeting for the year, it was the last meeting for the elected at large system with six council members and a Mayor.  The next time the Council would meet, there would be 10 members, each elected from their district only and a Mayor elected at large.

Of those 10 members, only one would have experience as a council member.

Of all the big issues, and there were a lot, the biggest was the issue of the generation plan for the City.  Back in July, the Generation Task Force had released their report.  Then in August,  Resolution 157 was adopted which embraced many of the Task Force Recommendations.  In response, the Utility, which had earlier indicated that the Recommendations would cost billions, offered a compromise which would accomplish much of the goals in Resolution 157 yet was deemed affordable because of the inclusion of 500 MW gas plant.  This 500 plan became the Utility's new position.

Working with the Utility, the Sierra Club agreed to the basics of the Utility plan with some major important changes and amendments.  The Sierra Club then attempted to smooth their deal with the rest of the broad environmental community and in doing so, improved the plan substantially.  Solar was increased to 950 and a 55% renewable energy target by 2025 was established.

After lots of amendments and drama, the amended plan was passed 6 to 1 with the always unhappy Mayor Leffingwell voting no.

The next day Public Citizen wrote:

New Austin Energy 10-Year Plan is a Step Backward, but Benefited from Community Involvement
The Austin City Council’s vote last night to adopt the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2025 brought to an end a year’s worth of work by numerous advocates and engaged members of the public.

While the result was disappointing, I find myself being immensely grateful for the many people who took time out of their schedules to stand up in support of the strongest renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage goals and in opposition to Austin Energy’s continued use of polluting fossil fuels.

Many of the people who we worked side-by-side with over the past year have spent years trying to improve Austin’s energy policies and their past work has been critical in getting us as far as we are now. Others who hadn’t been very involved in energy policy also got engaged. Some had to put in a lot of effort just to get educated on the complex facts that surround energy policy. What united us all was a common belief that not only is a transition to clean, renewable energy sources possible, but that it is the only responsible course of action.
 We joined forces with people and organizations who are concerned about climate change, health impacts of air pollution and water pollution, water use, affordability, and equity. It is clear that when the costs of the many negative impacts of using fossil fuels – including the mining of coal, fracking for gas, and then burning those products – are taken into consideration, clean energy alternatives are by far the better deal. Even without those important costly externalities included in the equation, wind power, solar power, energy efficiency and demand response (strategically reducing energy use at key times) are now all more affordable than energy from a new gas plant.
For all those reasons, we made incredible progress with the policies that the Austin City Council adopted in the Affordable Energy Resolution on August 28. Unfortunately, as a result of losing a big piece of its political cover, Council passed a plan last night (December 11) that rolled back some of those gains and opened the door for Austin Energy to build a big new gas plant.
On the other hand, others saw it in a different light:

Austin adopts generation plan setting big renewable goals
 Mayor Lee Leffingwell votes no, citing cost implications
 Austin Energy plans to phase out two fossil fuel generating plants while more than quadrupling the municipal utility’s solar generation goals to 950 megawatts (MW) under an ambitious plan approved by Austin City Council, 6-1, last night. 
Under the plan, the utility will phase out its Decker natural gas plant and Fayette coal plants while speeding up its renewable energy generation goals by 2025 from 35 percent now to 55 percent. That goal exceeds the highest state goal, Hawaii’s, which is 40 percent for the same year. 
The adopted 2025 Austin Resource Generation Plan powers down Austin Energy’s most polluting fossil fuel plants while setting historic commitments to solar and other renewable energy. It also strengthens commitments to demand response (paying consumers for cutting peak demand energy use) and energy efficiency while starting energy storage investments.
It's hard not to notice that the new gas plant doesn't make the first three paragraphs of this report.

Upon its passage, the plan did not actually OK the gas plant, but it did provide a road map for it.  It was this study that became the most contentious element of the plan and was the most amended.  Activist successfully rebranded it as a gap study....a study to determine how the energy gap from retiring two fossil fuel plants could best be met. Another amendment required the Utility to consider its unique position as both a generator and retailer in its hiring of the consultant.

And it is this study, and the hiring of the consultant who would do the study that is now front and center in the generation plan debate and the action has now moved over to the Electric Utility Commission.

Nora Ankrum's Pioneers or Settlers piece in the Austin Chronicle does a good job of  telling the story. Her story closes:

"Everybody got really excited, upset, etc. about the Gen Plan, but it's a living breathing document that will change," says Reed. With little else guaranteed to happen under the plan in 2015 – aside from the issuance, likely this month, of an RFP for the gas plant study – there may be plenty of time for new rounds of dabbling, perhaps prompted by a brand new Council. Ulti­mate­ly, the plan is not so much about what's written in the document now, but how well it serves as a guidepost in the coming years. As Pipkin says, "It's really a framework of how we value and position energy as a part of our community ethos."

Apparently Act Three is a long one.

"It's important to be a leader not only in the sense of being the first person to do something but the first person to do something right,

Michael Osborne








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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Long Dawn

It's totally amazing but this November marks 10 years of Earthfamilyalpha. When I started it, George Bush had just been reelected and the thought of 4 more years was just plain brutal.  Over the next four years, I posted over 1300 posts on technology, philosophy, advanced tech, and the earthfamily.

My ideas about large scale human coops still hold true to me, but their time is still not upon us.  But they are coming.

Also during this November I gave the luncheon speech at the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association 30th annual meeting.  I cofounded TREIA and led it actively for its first decade.  The two part video of the speech follows:

Here is the first



And here is the second


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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Predictable Renewable Energy

Here is another clip from Climate Crock of the Week  on Predictable Renewable Energy.

I should also make a correction here.  Predictability three days out to the hour is not 90% for wind resources.  It is for solar.  Renewables as a whole are highly predictable 24 hours out, so they can be dispatched into the day ahead market with relative accuracy.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Vehicle to Grid

Last spring, a friend of mine and I brought Peter Sinclair of Climate Denial Crock of the Week into town to try to raise some money for his Dark Snow project in Greenland.  We spend several days together and he shot video of me in my office.

Recently he posted them on Crock of the Week.

Here is the one on Vehicle to Grid.



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