Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Atrios programming in some extra misses

Normally Eschaton is great, but a few things have been off. Duncan Black's repeated statements that self-driving cars won't happen (or will never work) is one good example, especially as they've been improving leaps and bounds in the last 2-3 years. He says it doesn't matter anyway until it becomes policy relevant, but cruise control+++ could already get people to drive instead of flying or taking rail.

I'm not sure whether the long-run effects are positive. I'm leaning in that direction as cities get more livable with less space taken up by parking and personal cars, but who knows. It'll definitely happen in Duncan's lifetime, and I'll bet he'll eat his words in about 5 years.

Another issue:  while I agree with him that Larry Lessig is going about things wrong, Atrios consistently pooh-poohs the influence of money in federal politics (and I haven't seen a lot of concern from him about money on non-federal politics). Based on personal experience I beg to differ about the role of money in politics, at any level. I have trouble seeing why the federal level would be different from state or local, and I'd be glad to get a solution at a federal level even if it doesn't solve everything. Everything or nothing isn't a good way to go about doing politics or policy.

We've got an over 50% chance of reversing Citizens United if we elect a Democrat in 2016, so I think a lot can be done about this issue.

In his defense, Atrios was right in not caring about Congressional earmarks, and I was wrong to oppose them. Spending on water projects has been a complete mess at the federal level since earmarks were eliminated.

Finally just a weird get-off-my-lawn moment where Atrios announces urban farms aren't farms, they're "commercial gardens" because....that's what he's said the words mean. As for being small, yes they're small, and intensive production can do a lot with small spaces.

Per usual, I'll write nothing about the vast majority of time that he's right, so I can concentrate on complaining.

Whitehouse Wednesday

Here is the latest from Sen. Whitehouse

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Putin's half-learned half loaf

Looking beyond all the caterwauling over Putin's latest, moderately harmful interference in Syria, I think we can see a method in places like Georgia and Ukraine:  Putin will go for the half loaf and not try to take the whole thing.

It's always tricky to guess someone else's psyche, but I think he thinks he learned the lesson of the Soviet Union as he watched it crash around him in the 80s and 90s, which is to extend but don't overextend. And there is a modest truth to that lesson, one that American neocons have never learned. Future Russian historians will look fondly at his retaking of Crimea while ignoring the methods used.

For the rest of the world, this is useful to keep in mind as we try to figure out what he's doing. There's no grand plan for Russian dominance in the Middle East, he's just trying to hold onto his very last proxy. Unless you're Syrian, the damage Putin is causing right now is limited.

While future Russian historians might applaud Crimea, they won't applaud Putin's inability to learn anything else from the fall of the USSR. Russia has neither political nor economic stability and has done nothing to diversify itself from being an oil commodities exporter in the last 20 years. That's on Putin and it will greatly affect Russian ability to be one of the global powers of the future.

"Would you encourage people to avoid driving your cars when possible until the illegal emission problem is fixed?"

The headline above is the question I would love to see asked of VW executives. Unless the fix is quickly enacted in some widespread form (e.g., people are given a cash rebate to bring in their cars quickly) then the health damage VW is causing will continue.

So far, they're saying something problematic:

In a response Saturday night to an earlier request for comment, Volkswagen said the EPA has noted that the affected vehicles do not present a safety hazard and are legal to drive. "General allegations regarding links between NOX emissions from these affected vehicles and specific health effects are unverified. We have received no confirmed reports that the emissions from such vehicles caused any actual health problem," the company said in a statement.

Keep saying that after being given a chance to limit their impact by discouraging people from driving their cars, and VW digs itself further into the liability hole. A legitimate answer would be something like "our affected diesels are currently legal to drive, but anything people chose to do to limit pollution such as driving other brand vehicles or finding alternatives to driving would likely reduce the emissions while we work on a solution."

Such a statement would be painful, but VW knows who it has to blame. Until they say it, they haven't come clean and haven't taken all the steps they could take, right now, to reduce the problem they've created.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Cool new stuff

I normally don't post about the daily Today's Exciting Breakthrough That'll Change Everything, but some exceptions:

1. The Economist on electronic flight. Air travel is already a non-trivial source of emissions and getting bigger, and its unclear whether biofuels will ever be real substitute for jet fuel. That small electronic planes could be flying in just a year or two for an hour at a time is good news, as trainee pilots use them to learn skills. It seems like massive planes are a long ways off, but any bit helps, so maybe biofuels are one solution with electronic planes the other, and if at least one works then we're good. And also, get rid of flying whenever possible.

2. Osmotic power:

From Sciencedaily, new steps, hopefully,  in using the salinity differential between more- and less-salty water to create power. I've heard of osmotic power before and think it has serious potential. The paper mentions combining brines from ocean desalination plants with seawater. I think a better example, maybe, could be brines from wastewater recycled via reverse-osmosis plants, combined with wastewater that that isn't undergoing RO treatment. It's much less salty to begin with, so it's easier to achieve a higher salinity differential with RO wastewater brines than ocean desal brines.

In the water field, we're used to doing energy recovery when you pump water over an incline - you just stick a turbine at the bottom on the far side, and you get 80% of your energy back. Why not do the same thing after you pump wastewater across a membrane?

3. Kauai installing the first utility-grade solar-plus-battery storage. Hawaii has the goal of 100% renewable power by 2045, something the rest of us in the developed world need to hit a decade or so later (combined with whatever large hydro/nuclear still around then). The real if overhyped problem renewables have of intermittent wind power and no solar power after sunset can be counter acted with batteries, and Kauai (amazing place to hike, btw) is doing it. They're using massive numbers of Tesla's Powerwall batteries to get 52 megawatt-hours of storage, several percent of total daily usage. Hardly a complete solution, but a non-trivial start. Combine storage with smart homes that shift power usage to times when renewable power is working, and you're getting a solution.

Hawaii does have sky-high fuel import costs that makes this financially feasible, but it's worth noting that the state doesn't have the energy poverty of Haiti. The rest of us could do this now if we were willing to bear some costs - the world doesn't face a binary choice of current fossil fuel waste or Haitian levels of economic development.

4. Small scale solar-plus-used-hybrid batteries replace generators at Yellowstone National Park. Lamar Buffalo Ranch, an environmental education facility at Yellowstone with no grid power, had used diesel generators for decades. They switched to solar power backed up with 208 reused, hybrid car battery packs. This is obviously experimental and not based on straight financial considerations, but it points the way. Millions of hybrid battery packs are going to be available in the next 5 years. My Prius from 2004 with 175,000 miles is going to have to be recycled someday. I don't honestly know whether there's enough juice in these hybrid batteries to make them commercially useful, but I think it's highly likely for reusing the much larger plug-in and EV batteries, millions of which will be available in the next decade. That's lots of cheap power storage.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A tiny tear for the coal lobbyists

Politico reports that the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity is doing layoffs:

A leading “clean coal” lobbying shop is cutting half its staff and reorganizing to reflect the U.S. coal industry’s market losses and the industry’s continued financial struggles. The 22-year-old American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity will lay off its chief of staff and also plans to eliminate several middle-management positions. The nonprofit is also seeking to get out of its lease for its downtown Washington office.

“Like many of our members, we are facing tough times that necessitate tough decisions on how best to effectively operate,” the group’s CEO, Michael Duncan, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in a statement Monday morning to POLITICO. Duncan will retain his job at ACCCE, which will see its staff shrink to about eight “senior leaders.” “While leaner, this team will continue to execute strategic advocacy efforts ensuring that affordable, reliable coal-based electricity supplies America’s power for generations to come,” Duncan said. The most senior position to be eliminated is ACCCE chief of staff Robert Paduchik, who will leave at the end of the year.

My guess is the judges presiding over recent coal bankruptcies have decided the lobbyists can be cut loose, but Politico also mentions that some coal-affiliated organizations have become less coal-affiliated and dropped out of the Coalition.

Certainly couldn't happen at a better time. Their ability to screw up the 2016 elections in favor of massive coal pollution will be reduced, this subsidized industry will shrink, and a virtuous cycle will continue.

There's also the question of how effective ACCCE will be - seems like it might now consist of interns, receptionists, and VIPs who don't know the nuts and bolts of how things happen. I went and looked up their Form 990s, most recent is 2013. Revenue $21M, expenses $2M less, asset balance of $3.7M. Their budget in 2012 and 2011 was twice as big, suggesting some long-term struggles.

A far-thinking lobbying leader of a declining industry might build up the assets as much as one could while paying considerable salaries, and then continue to pay considerable salaries for the most senior leaders until the money runs out. Then turn the organization keys over to a recently-graduated, former intern.

Here's a snapshot from 2013:

Not a bad salary for Mr. Duncan, but I'm sure the workers in the mines and in the unemployment lines are glad for the top-notch representation.

We'll see how things play out in 2015 and 2016, although it'll be a few years before we get to see the goods.

Ending for your amusement with their own brief description of ACCCE's mission:  "ADVOCATE PUBLIC POLICIES THAT ADVANCE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPROVEMENT, ENERGY PROSPERITY, & ENERGY SECURITY".  Right there on page 1 - how can you argue with that, warmists?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Eli Explains It All

So the Associated Press has decided that in their style climate skeptics are not skeptical at all, but mistaken.  They recommend referring to them as those who reject climate science or doubters.  Lots of Eli's friends and neighbors have been talking about this.  Victor Venema has a good thumb sucker. Thoughtful, kind, considerate.  In other words not necessarily Eli's sort of thing

Peter Sinclair also comments, and links to an interview Bob Garfield of NPR conducted with Seth Borenstein of the AP.  The problem of what to call people who do not accept scientific evidence is not limited to climate science.  One can toss evolution, vaccination, GMOs onto the barbie.

Dave Roberts has a useful take on this

Personally, I like the term "climate truthers," which better captures the flavor of the thing. It's not like "those who reject mainstream climate science" all have the same story about why they reject it. There are dozens of varieties of counter-theories, as many as there are theories about Kennedy's assassination. What unites them all is a conviction that the official story can't be right, that it's covering for a nefarious agenda, that the truth is out there.
To borrow some words from Jonathan Chait if you dig deeply into any of these you find a tangle of denial and cant undergirding an unshakable commitment to voodoo.  In that spirit, Eli would like to undertake (wonderful word usage there) a short journey into the taxonomy of denial.

In the deppest level there dwell the rejectionists, the folks who know the science, even continue to publish about the science, but completely reject it.  Characters like, well like our second-most current Republican candidate for President, the good Dr. Carson. Usually this rejection has religious or political roots (Hi Dr. Roy), but rejection it is.

Above them are the deniers.  The don't need a reason, they just deny.  They will, of course, accept any silly reason you give them, and they even on occasion try and act out some science.  Here, of course we have the bloggers, Willard Tony Watts, Andrew Montford, those fold, and of course, they need the rejectionist to point to for justification,

ADDED:  The bunnies have uncovered another beast, the groundhog.  The groundhog is well known for popping up at a different place or time with the same argument that was torn apart at a different place or time.  Groundhogs suffer from post traumatic argument memory loss syndrome.

ADDED:  Victor V suggests the butterfly who flits from argument to argument saying whatever he things he can just get away with. From playing the luckwarmer here to fundamentalist ice-ageism at Jo Nova.

Somewhat higher in the circle of denial are the luck warmers.  Yes, yes, the science is fine, but we will just pick the lower limit which may, or may not be so bad, and let's all go out and have a drink. Of course, even if you look at their cherry picks things will be pretty awful.

Then there are the doubters.  The problem with the AP recommendation, is that real doubters are, not involved in denial of anything, but just have not been concerned with the problem at hand.  They have doubts because they don't have information, and unless they think the issue will become important to them, they have no desire to really get any information.

Of course, given family, friends and the internet, the information that is most easily available to anybunny is the information in his social circle, and if that circle includes the circles of denial, it is very easy for them to be mislead.  And the Exxons of the world have paid a pretty penny to make sure that misinformation is readily available

There are also skeptics, people who want to look into everything for themselves.  Given enough time real skeptics get to the right place, but it takes time to understand even simple things about complex issues and there are pitchmen with three cards on every corner.

In short are the deniers and the rejecters doubters? If the AP thinks this so, to use a recent tweet Eli has seen (the author is welcome to claim credit),  irony has had its feeding tube removed,  Death is said to be imminent.  Self-awareness is not available for comment.

Today's News From Wolfsburg

Confirming developments in Dieselgate.

For VW, it is indeed a shit storm (perfectly good German word).

First, Bild reports that the German Department of Motor Vehicles has told VW that they have to present a binding plan on how they will fix the emissions problem in the 2.8 million VW diesels on the road in Germany by October 7.  If not, the government will cancel permission for those autos to be operated on the road in Germany.  It is estimated it will cost between 100 to 200 Euro to bring each auto into compliance, but of course, there will likely be a mileage and performance cost.  That will be left to the lawyers.

Second, the Times of London reports that the European Central Bank at this time will accept no further asset backed securities from VW in its quantitative easing bond buying program.  The assets are, of course, credits for car purchases.  The ECB wants to mull over if VW's credit is good enough to keep it in the program.  That will kick the cost of credit for VW toward Greeceland.  The market risk is, as Brian pointed out, larger than anybunny can calculate

Third, the Frankfurther Allgemeine am Sonntag brings word that, in 2011, an engineer had attempted to inform management they had a small problem with illegal software running the diesels that were being sold (these motors were introduced in 2009 and sold until 2014).  This warning was dug out and presented to the VW board on Friday although the FAS did not know who saw the letter and why it was ignored (stay tuned)

Fourth, while Martin Winterkorn remains on the Porsche Board, it is pretty clear that he will not remain long, and moves are afoot to tell him to go blow on a straw if he tries to claim the money due him according to his contract.

Fifth (added Monday) the State's Attorney in Braunschweig (nearest city to Wolfsburg) has opened a case against Martin Winterkorn for dishonestly allowing cars to be sold whose emission records were falsified (hey, its German).  This follows the complaint forwarded to the State's Attorney's office by VW which named no names.

And to all a good night

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Dieselgate: Night of the Long Knives

Link to update

As could have been forecast VW tried to cast a few engineers down the well of forgetfulness, just a small group they would have you know, and they have been suspended

Bernd Osterloh, chairman of VW’s work council and a member of the executive committee, said: “A small group has done damage to our company. We need a climate where mistakes are not hidden.  Müller and Osterloh were speaking at a press conference to unveil the new boss of the troubled German carmaker.
Some of the heads were near the top too, with the directors of development (chief engineers) at VW, Audi, Ulrich Hackenberg and Porsche, Wolfgang Hatz being given their leave as well as the VW chief in the US

This alone would be taken with a small dose of salts, but news from California has it that testing there was tightly monitored and controlled by a number of high ups in the VW management team, closely linked to the recently retired CEO Martin Winterkorn.  It looks like the California testing team is leaking early to avoid being pushed in front of the diesel bus

But electron trails extend far today, and Bild am Sonntag (paywall) has a letter to VW from Bosch, the supplier of VWs engine control software and emissions systems, written in 2007 warning VW that it would be illegal to use Bosch's software to control emissions systems in cars that they sold, but that it was given to VW for testing purposes only.

This clears up the question of where the software came from.

What happened is also a bit clearer.  The diesel engines in question were developed in 2006 to improve VWs performance in the US market.  The development team wanted to use the AdBlue system to control NOx emissions which would cost  ~ 300 for each car.  The pencil pushers said no.  Diesels were expensive enough.

At about that time Martin Winterkorn took over at VW which was having a tough time and his job was to control costs.  The original design team was sidetracked.  Hackenberg and Hatz took over, two of the development directors asked to leave yesterday.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Nature Prepares to Launch the Black Helicopters

Implicit to any rational scientific understanding of climate change is the certainty that if the world continues on a business as usual course it will get bad, very bad indeed.  Don't Scare the Children Richard Betts reports

For a scenario of high GHG emissions, the earliest time of reaching 4°C above pre-industrial was around 2070, and the latest sometime after 2100. In the most extreme case, 6°C is projected by 2100 although most models do not show this. If feedbacks are stronger or weaker than in those simulations, the timing could be outside these bounds – but evidence for these would need careful examination before we could be confident in this.
He is telling us that not only will it get very, very bad, but it will do so in a very short time, within the lifetime of children born today.  When he says
Finally, even if the world does make major emissions cuts very soon, this will take time to filter through into tangible effects on global warming. There is already more warming in the pipeline which is unavoidable. Therefore anything projected for the next few years is already unavoidable. If “whole swathes” really will become uninhabitable “in a few years” then there is absolutely nothing we can do about it, however urgently we cut emissions.
Dear Dinosaurs, there is nothing you can do, go ahead munching the grass, the asteroid will hit in about 80 years and you will all be dead anyhow.

But what if the dinos could do something, then, of course Richard also has a word of advice
Secondly, if people come to believe that catastrophic impacts are only round the corner, this could lead to wrong decisions made in panic. A lot is being done to make us more resilient to the climate change we’ve already set in motion – new flood defences, plans for reservoirs and water supplies, and so on. But these are expensive, and doing these too early could cost billions. And if people are scared into moving away from their homelands because they think it will be uninhabitable, this would only add to the existing refugee crisis, for no good reason.
In other words:  Dear Dinos: You could do something by recognizing that there is an asteroid on the way, DASA might be able to help, but maybe you would waste a few dino dollars, maybe the initial response would not be perfectly, scientifically perfect.  If you break up the asteroid maybe some chunks might hit the planet.  Wait, and a miracle might occur.

Very EcoModernist.

Nico Stehr in Nature continues their tradition of finding ways to blame scientists for what they are not doing. ATTP discusses this, but IEHO misses the point,
More surprisingly, a similar impatience with the political elite is now also present in the scientific community. Researchers are increasingly concerned that no one is listening to their diagnosis of the dangers of human-induced climate change and its long-lasting consequences, despite the robust scientific consensus. 
True enough, but immediately following is this clanger
As governments continue to fail to take appropriate political action, democracy begins to look to some like an inconvenient form of governance. There is a tendency to want to take decisions out of the hands of politicians and the public, and, given the 'exceptional circumstances', put the decisions into the hands of scientists themselves.
Other than those who can don the Lab Coat of Power, this is a complete strawman.  What scientists fear is that when things get bad, very bad indeed, the response of the world will be to launch the black helicopters.  Pfft, there goes democracy and much else of value, well if you and yours have not previously disappeared in the crush.