Sunday, March 31, 2019

Bend the Light

Beginning in the early 90's, roughly 12 years after the 1981 announcement of the Reagan EPA that climate change was real and a danger to all of global civilization, I began to wonder if the world would actually act.  Early in the decade, we had the first of many UN sponsored meetings under the framework convention adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio in June of 1992.

I had gone to New York that spring to participate in talks sponsored by the International Solar Energy Society.  There was talk of carbon pricing and carbon cap and trade, but no one was talking as radical as the actual EPA report which called for a 400 % tax on carbon and abolishing the use of coal altogether if we were to actually stop this climate train wreck in its tracks.  Obviously our regulators were more impressed with the end of the world as we know it back then.

It was during that time that I began to write about climate change ultimately publishing "Lightland: Climate Change and the Human Potential" in 2001.  It was also during that time that I began building my city of the future.  I called it Argonon.  It was a city designed to have it's own energy system, it's own food supply, an inner protective world, and a host of other sustainable features that would support its inhabitants through a very dark period of human development.  It was an Earthship for 250,000 earthlings of all ages and race. It would be full of the best engineers, scientists, farmers, artists, musicians, and dreamers.

The finished model ultimately took over the majority of my converted two car garage since turned into a futurelab.  (Today Argonon sits in its museum crates in the corner of the design lab)

But the key technological invention of the city was what I called an EMASER.  This Electro Magnetic Assisted Solar Energy Receiver was a laser device that would emanate energy into the atmosphere for the purpose of controlling incoming light.  It literally would intercept solar energy thousands of feet into the atmosphere and like the common place mirage on our highways and flat deserts, reflect the light by a few degrees.

These atmospheric mirages would be of dual purpose.  One, they would reduce the amount of energy hitting one part of the earth's surface, while increasing the energy on another part.

The strategy of Argonon was straightforward enough.  Because it was designed for the latter half of the 21st century when Climate Change had rocketed through the 2 degrees C set by global treaty, it had an array of EMASERs around its perimeter that projected laser induced mirages into the sky thus controlling the ground and air temperatures in the city.

And in addition, that bent light was shunted to the solar fields surrounding the city thus increasing the production of the panels through more solar flux.  It was a creme rinse and a floor wax.  But it was also a dessert topping.  An array of lasers of this power would also have immense defensive potential.

I rarely tell this story because it sounds like a NBA sized tall tale.  To document it, I even shot a video of our tests, but somehow my director lost the footage.  Nevertheless, with the help of several UT Professors in Engineering and Physics, we procured a small DARPA grant to test the concept of lasing the atmosphere to create a mirage that would bend incoming light.  If you don't know what DARPA is, you should.

We used a carbon dioxide laser and hoped to vibrate the carbon dioxide molecule in the experimental atmosphere to create the effect.  After several days of testing, our results were inconclusive. But I was not too discouraged.  By the time we had set up the experiment and the testing bed somewhere in the basement of the University of Texas Physics department, I had already determined that we would have to use an Argon laser.  After all, CO2 in the atmosphere is only 410 parts per million,  (headed to 500) while Argon is 30,000 parts per million.

Now, 30 years after the  Earth Summit, and 40 years after Dan Rather warned us on CBS evening news of impending calamity,  we have a minority elected US government that disdains the perils of Climate Change while simultaneously demanding a wall to stop Central Americans who are fleeing it.

And I find myself thinking and writing of EMASERS and EARTHSHIPS once again.

And thanks to advancements in Laser science since these tests,  lasing the atmosphere to control climate while powering solar fields might prove to be a solution for a world that because of 40 years of inaction, has traded mitigation for adaptation.

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lease the Wind

About 40 years ago, I started working on developing a wind farm.  It would be the first in Texas and the second in the United States.

I had a lot of work to do.  I had to find a windy place with a 3 phase power line that could take the power.  And I had to get it connected. The Public Utility Policy Act had been passed and signed by President Carter in 1978 and with that law, Qualifying Facilities or "QF"s were allowed and even encouraged to plug into the grid and get paid for that energy by the utility at a fair rate called "avoided cost".

It was a revolutionary thing.  Since I had been on the PUC advisory committee that implemented PURPA, I was on pretty solid ground with these newly enacted rights that producers of energy using wind, solar and other qualifying sources now enjoyed.  But the law was new and utilities were not that excited about it.

Southwest Public Service was the utility in the Texas Pandhandle that I negotiated with.  And although quite conservative, they did ultimately offer a contract that represented their version of "avoided cost" which was the basis for the payment under PURPA.

I was 31 when the deal was somewhat complete.  I had  the lease agreement for the land (thanks to my cousin, Carl Kennedy, the county judge), the interconnect agreement with SPS for the production, the turbines had been ordered, and the financing was secured.

We began construction late in 1981 and we videotaped it.  Installation only took a very full week.  We also included interviews with Mr. Mack, the Coca Cola distributor who had two units in the same location, and Father Joe James, who put up 5 more units around his passively designed Catholic Church in Lubbock.

I used this documentary in my plenary speech to the National Solar and Wind Conference in Houston that next spring. The audio quality degraded for the first minute or so.

Since these early days, I  have been involved in the ever growing Wind Industry, securing leases for both wind developers and utilities, sometimes erecting wind monitoring systems to prove the winds, often working the legislature for tax abatements while arguing at the PUC for favorable interconnect rules and transmission line improvements.

During my time at Austin Energy, I helped oversee well over a Gigawatt of Wind Power in 14 years.  (AE now has 1850 MWs).

When I left AE and was appointed to the Electric Utility Commission, I approved over 600 MWs of Wind and another 600 MWs of solar.

Since the early 90s, like the late 70s, we  have had  Presidents and  Administrations that understood the wisdom and the importance of reaching as high a penetration of carbon-free energy as possible.  Life was not always good, but it wasn't bad.  It was rational.

But then, a not so funny thing happened on the way to dealing with the climate issue.

The Republican Party became the party of Intellectual poverty.  They nominated a pro-coal candidate who skillfully ran off with the presidential election with 70,000 votes to spare while losing the popular vote by 3 million.  And that victory has emboldened the very worst of the climate denying wing of what used to be a rational and responsible national party.

Nowhere is that more obvious than right here in Austin.  Our own heart of darkness lurks in its Congress Street headquarters spewing outright lies and misinformation fronting for their Kock-sucker benefactors.

They are trying to beat back the tide with a cane.

They are a pitiful, bitter old man who will pass with few friends,

and an army of enemies.

And they will be remembered for their crimes against their own.

They will Reap the Wind.

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Kruger Effect

There is a somewhat well known psychological effect that describes a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect.  It's when people of low ability have illusory superiority and incorrectly assess their own ability to be higher than it really is.

The term lends a scientific name and explanation to a problem that many people immediately recognize—that fools are blind to their own foolishness. As Charles Darwin wrote in his book The Descent of Man, "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge."

This from the verywellmind:

Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their own capabilities.

The effect is named after researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the two social psychologists who first described it. In their original study on this psychological phenomenon, they performed a series of four investigations and found that people who scored in the lowest percentiles on tests of grammar, humor, and logic also tended to dramatically overestimate how well they had performed. Their actual test scores placed them in the 12th percentile, yet they estimated that their performance placed them in the 62nd percentile.

This effect can have a profound impact on what people believe, the decisions they make, and the actions they take. In one study, Dunning  found that women performed equally to men on a science quiz, and yet women underestimated their performance because they believed they had less scientific reasoning ability than men.

Dunning and his colleagues have also performed experiments in which they ask respondents if they are familiar with a variety of terms related to subjects including politics, biology, physics, and geography. Along with genuine subject-relevant concepts, they interjected completely made up terms.

In one such study, approximately 90 percent of respondents claimed that they had at least some knowledge of the made up terms. Consistent with other findings related to the Dunning-Kruger effect, the more familiar participants claimed that they were with a topic, the more likely they were to also claim they were familiar with the meaningless terms. As Dunning has suggested, the very trouble with ignorance is that it can feel just like expertise."

So if the incompetent tend to think they are experts, what to genuine experts think of their own abilities? Dunning and Kruger found that those at the high end of the competence spectrum did hold more realistic views of their own knowledge and capabilities. However, these experts actually tended to underestimate their own abilities relative to how others did."

Of course there is a lot out there about Dunning Kruger these days mostly because we have elected a leader who seems to be a poster child for the effect.  He uses the best words, he is very smart, he knows more about "intelligence" than his experts, knows more than his generals, he loves tariffs, thinks MOU's are useless pieces of paper, and on and on.

But my point is not about him.  It's about the folks who voted for him.  As the weeks have turned into years, I now see the administration for what it seems to be.  An bumbling incompetent bunch of pretenders who think they know more than they do. Because they were elected by the thinnest of margins by their fellow Dunning Krugerites, they characterize it as the greatest  electoral college victory in American history even though Obama's victories were greater both times.  They compensate for empty viewing stands by saying it was the greatest crowd ever.

They back out of international trade treaties only to renegotiate a new better deal which looks very much like the original agreement.  They secretly negotiate nuclear plant deals with the Saudi's as they back out of nuclear bomb deals with the Iranians.

The Dunning-Kruger effect has real implications for Democracy.  If weaponized, it allows for a dangerous manipulation of the voter pool.   LOCK HER UP and BUILD THAT WALL become chants of solidarity that are really little more than thin veneers of respectability over the counter evolutionary demiurges of racism and misogyny.

There is another Kruger out there with an E.

And Freddy was virtually all powerful in the dream world.

But when pulled into the real world,

he was vulnerable.

So, let's end our nightmare by waking up.

We can't sleep through this night.










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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Prosperity and Power

We generally take a family trip at the end of the year and this year we decided to spend time in Mexico City.  Last year, we managed to choose New York City just in time for the arctic air blast that made Times Square colder than a meat locker.

The weather in Mexico City or DF (DeEffy) as they call it,  is pretty much perfect during the holidays.  Every day was like LA; cool in the evenings and not hot during the day.  (middle 70s)  And during the holidays, Mexico City's pollution is greatly diminished which is important, because there's 20 something million people in the greater DF area.

Here is the blurb on the city:

Mexico City is the densely populated, high-altitude capital of Mexico. It's known for its Templo Mayor (a 13th-century Aztec temple), the baroque Catedral Metropolitana de México of the Spanish conquistadors and the Palacio Nacional, which houses historic murals by Diego Rivera. All of these are situated in and around the Plaza de la Constitución, the massive main square also known as the Zócalo.

Today, the city, now abbreviated as CDMX, is the most populous city in North America and is one of the most important cultural and financial centres in the Americas.[15] It is located in the Valley of Mexico (Valle de México), a large valley in the high plateaus in the center of Mexico, at an altitude of 2,240 meters (7,350 ft). The city has 16 boroughs.  (wikipedia)

We stayed in a swanky Mexico Hotel on the Paseo de la Reforma, the main street of Mexico.  The Reforma is a grand European style street with 10 lanes of traffic, bicycle lanes, and shaded pedestrian walkways that goes from the center of the city from the huge (larger than Central Park) Chapultepec Park to the historic   Zocolo out to the NE part of town.  It's about 10 miles long.

It is lined with 50 to 70 story towers on its west side close to the park where we stayed.  From our room, we could see the Fountain of the Archer Goddess Diana and the huge Angel of the Independence monument a few blocks away.  Like in Paris, the street is manicured and covered in flowers and groundcover.  It's not the Champs-Elysees, but it's quite impressive.

And it's more than a little odd to come back from this sophisticated foodie city to  our American national conversation about building a wall to protect ourselves from a culture that has thousands of years of history.  Mexico City dwellers must find that conversation deeply disturbing if not a bit culturally insane.

No visit to CDMX is complete without a day in the park.  The anthropology museum is splendid and the 2  art museums are worth it.

It is the most visited museum in Mexico. Located in the area between Paseo de la Reforma and Mahatma Gandhi Street within Chapultepec Park, it contains significant archaeological and anthropological artifacts from Mexico's pre-Columbian heritage, such as the Stone of the Sun (or the Aztec calendar stone) and the Aztec Xochipilli statue.

One thing I got from this trip is that the calendar stone is not a calendar, it is a sacrificial altar where human hearts were cut out to appease the gods.

I also got a sense of their history and how they moved from agriculture to a war society.  It was this society that the Conquistadors first encountered.  They were not helpless farmers, they were sophisticated overlords of a civilization with roots as old as the Egyptians.

Like all conquerors, the Europeans built their temple right on top of the Templo Mayor, the pyramid temple in the very center of the original city that was built on an island in the original lake that existed in this valley.

Watching the feathered dancers and shamans in the square around the European Cathedral, it's hard not to imagine that they consider this time of the Europeans to just be a 500 year old blip in their 3 thousand year history.

The two smaller temples at the top of the Templo Mayor were dedicated to the God of Rain and the God of War.  Prosperity and Power were their Gods...

Much like their dangerous neighbors to the north.

Perhaps they should build that Wall.

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Friday, November 30, 2018

The Blue Tide

Election day finally came and even though there were disappointments, I found myself feeling better and better as the days turned into weeks. Taking over the house, the Dems look to gain 40 seats.  Democrats also gained 250 seats in state legislatures.  They took functional control of seven legislative chambers while the Rs only took control of the Alaska House.

All in all, Dems won over 53.4% of the vote and the Rs got  44.8%.  This margin of  9.7 million votes  is greater than the 8.6 million vote victory after the Nixon resignation in 1974.

And even though the Dems captured an equal margin of Senate votes, Republicans gained 2 seats. But they lost Arizona and Nevada, thus making the  populated West more and more blue.  Democrats are now the party of choice in our populated areas where Republicans are the party of choice for the rural areas.  That gives the R's an advantage in the Senate where North Dakota has the same amount of senators as California.

Dems also gained 7 governorships.

Democrats gained enough seats to deprive Republicans of supermajorities in Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. This will keep Republicans from having enough votes to override the vetoes of Democratic governors in those states.  Meanwhile, Democrats achieved supermajorities for themselves in seven chambers.

So, don't spend any mental energy debating whether or not this was a wave.

It  clearly was and is a Blue Tide. Which I think is a better metaphor.

And we should be grateful that Nancy Pelosi will soon be third in line to the presidency.

Here in Texas, we watched Beto raise almost 70 million dollars in his close loss to his sneering McCarthy look-alike opponent, but his excitement brought down-ballot dividends.  Even in  Red (neck) Texas, all of the large cities are are now blue. Ed Emmett, the 11 year incumbent Republican county judge in Houston, lost to a 27-year-old newcomer named Lina Hildager. And Dems won a host of real judges.

Democrats in Houston won all 59 seats that were on the ballot leaving only Democrats on the bench in civil, criminal, family, juvenile and probate courts.

At the state level, Democrats flipped 12 seats, bringing their numbers in the House to 67 in a House where 76 votes brings control. Dems also gained seats in the Senate. In the  judiciary though, Texas Dems cleaned up flipping the four influential state appeals courts that serve Austin, Houston and Dallas.  Democrats now hold majorities on seven of the 14 appeals courts.  Before the election, they held seats on just three.

And finally, Democrats flipped two congressional seats, returning the 7th district to the Democratic column since it was first flipped to the R's with George H W Bush in the late sixties. And veteran Pete Sessions was retired by Colin Alred.

If you are a real geek, check out the Tribune for actual semi-offical numbers.

So even as POTUS in his usual reality challenged way tried to whistle through his election day graveyard, that Russian thing just keeps unfolding like a Venus fly-trap.  Here is what we know thanks to Axios.

  • We now know several Russian officials reached out to a half-dozen Republicans very close to Trump and his campaign, including his eldest son, his closest adviser, his lawyer and his campaign manager. We now know they took the meetings, often enthusiastically, during and after the campaign. 
  • We now know Russia offered in those chats campaign assistance — “synergy,” they called it. We now know no one around Trump alerted the FBI of this effort to subvert our elections. 
  • We now know that 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted for hacking the DNC and systematically releasing material for the purpose of hurting the Clinton campaign via WikiLeaks. 
  • We know that Trump associates Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi attempted — successfully, in some instances — to get in touch with WikiLeaks and that they are under investigation for whether they had advance knowledge about the email dumps.
  • We now know Donald Trump Jr. and others took a meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. We now know Don Jr., when approached with the promise of dirt, wrote: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
  • We now know Trump was negotiating a Trump property in Moscow during the presidential campaign — and hid this from the public and lied about it. We now know Mueller believes, based on his court filing, the “Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government.”
  • We now know every arm of the U.S. intelligence community concluded Russia sought to systematically influence the election outcome. We now know this was an unanimous conclusion, save one dissent: Trump. 
  • We now know Trump officials continued talking with the Russians during the post-election transition. We now know Jared Kushner and Jeff Sessions failed to initially disclose any contacts with Russians on their government forms. 
  • We now know Jared Kushner suggestedsecret backchannel with the Russians, which had it happened, would have been free of U.S. eavesdropping.
  • We now know Trump soured on FBI director James Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House counsel Don McGahn in part over their handling of the probe. 
  • We now know Paul Manafort, who ran the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, lied about his Russia contacts, was indicted and is going to jail.
  • We now know Flynn lied about his Russian contacts, was fired and pleaded guilty, after agreeing to become a key witness in the investigation.
  • We now know Cohen lied about his Russian contacts, was indicted and then flipped to become a key witness against Trump. 
A friend of mine told me over Thanksgiving that he only gives this administration another six months before it falls under the enormous weight of its own corruption, the unending lies, the incompetence, and its treacherous use of a foreign power to gain power.

I took the bet.

And will hope that a luminescent Blue Tide returns in 2020.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Make American Sane Again

As Chairman of the Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance, I write a brief statement in the monthly newsletter.  Here is my October statement where I gave the Good News:

"Our mission statement to guide and accelerate the adoption of electric transportation in all its forms in the most cost effective way providing maximum benefit to the citizens of Texas" stands on its own whether or not you accept that mankind is changing the climate.

Moving to a transportation future that is unified with the stationary generation grid just makes good sense with or without the issue of climate change.

But of course, there is climate change and the new IPCC report is pretty blunt.  Here is my deep edit on the actual report from the IPCC.

“Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

Reflecting the long-term warming trend since pre-industrial times, observed global mean surface temperature for the decade 2006–2015 was 0.87°C higher than the average over the 1850–1900 period. Estimated anthropogenic global warming matches the level of observed warming to within ±20%.

Estimated anthropogenic global warming is currently increasing at 0.2°C per decade due to past and ongoing emissions

Warming greater than the global annual average is being experienced in many land regions and seasons, including two to three times higher in the Arctic. Warming is generally higher over land than over the ocean.

Trends in intensity and frequency of some climate and weather extremes have been detected over time spans during which about 0.5°C of global warming occurred.

Warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts but these emissions alone are unlikely to cause global warming of 1.5°C

Anthropogenic emissions up to the present are unlikely to cause further warming of more than 0.5°C over the next two to three decades or on a century time scale. “

So the good news is we have not cooked ourselves yet.

Of course the operative word here is YET

And in the spirit of the country western song where falling feels like flying for a little while, good news this bad is hardly worth celebrating.

Because the Bad News is we really have to be good from now on or we won't be just cooked, we'll be well done.

According to the New York Times story:

"A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

The Report issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population." (clip)

Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, said the authors, who estimate that the damage would come at a cost of $54 trillion. But while they conclude that it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely."

For most of the month after this shattering pronouncement, the leader of the so called free world stoked the fires of fear with his subjects by proclaiming that a dangerous army of women and children fleeing climate change and the politics of fear were invading our borders.  As they walk from their Central American homes and villages, he sends 5,000  troops to the border.

In Bob Woodward's new book Fear, Woodward  reports that our fearless leader 's response to the question of "what is power" was FEAR.

Creating fake fear while ignoring real danger is crazy.

I need a Make America Sane Again hat.

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