Wednesday, November 30, 2005

And now, the goo... less bad news.

This, via USA Today, er, today:

Excerpts: Natural climate conditions, not global warming, created the record-breaking 2005 tropical storm season, the nation's top hurricane experts said Tuesday. These included Gerry Bell, lead meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center. 

William Gray, head of Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project, also says on his website that there's no evidence that global warming has caused more hurricanes.

Despite a rise in ocean temperatures worldwide in recent decades, there has not been a worldwide increase in the number or intensity of tropical storms. Only the Atlantic Ocean has had an increase, which Gray attributes to natural cycles.

I guess these are just a bunch of experts who will be totally contradicted by another bunch of experts, leaving us all none the wiser, but for now I'll cheer myself up a bit with it. At least the fact that it may not be all our fault, though I guess anyone with a beachfront condo in Miami may still be less than thrilled.

So will the alarmists stop using this an excuse to rush us into over-reacting, pretty please? 

And will the other extreme (who are they? Government? Big business?) not even THINK of using it as an excuse to back slide.

We have seen some high-profile opportunities that have managed to capture the public's attention and inspire a desire to act. Doesn't matter why, but let's harness their interest and efforts honestly and direct them productively.

Waste is bad. Pollution is bad. Always was, is and will be. As it certainly can't be a good thing to pump vast amounts of man-made gunk up, down or sideways, so let's grab this chance to cut back... as far as we can, as soon as we can.


I just read a motoring piece about a new Mini 4x4 on the cards, which
these days inevitably ended up with a swipe (though on balance fair
enough) as to what the Mayor of London would make of it (it seems
he's talking of banning them as an eco-measure).

That's the problem with flip, narrow-minded, poorly thought-out,
agenda-driven , 'ist' campaigns; they almost always end up biting you
on the bum.

I'm not against a smart bit of well-considered, harmless, thought-
provoking, egalitarian protest to effect change, but when you take an
aggressively negative, and highly exclusive (but sloppily targeted)
stance such as the '4x4' efforts of some anti-dolts, you tend to
negate, or worse actively detract from any positives.

One obvious solution would be to move on to the more appropriate SUV
sector, but this would still consign all sorts of innocents to the
misery of censorious missionary zeal. There are many who, for sure,
it wouldn't hurt to inspire to drive more appropriate chariots based
on actual use, but is the collateral damage really worth it?

The final sentence here is not a defence of the unwarranted use of
such vehicles, simply a hint as to better avenues to explore in
trying to persuade people to change their purchase habits.

4x4s don't cause greenhouse gasses, burning lots of petroleum-based
fuels does. There's a difference.

Nuclear meltdown

And here it is. That is, the blog to follow the last one. Which it is in so many other ways.

I am trying to get to grips with the fallout (there may be a few unintentional nuclear-related puns here, so bear with me) from the PM's Energy Speech, which for various reasons pretty much got turned into 'How I Learned To Love The Atom'. Or, in the case of a few who took a pre-emptive opposing view, not.

So my time with the online versions of the major media was pretty extensive today. And frankly, it has done my head in.

What was interesting was how balanced they all were, with editorial, commentary and public opinion within organs of left and right, covering the full political spectrum, all pretty much disagreeing with each other internally, as much as with each other.

I actually found the 'letters to the editor' the most informative and useful, possibly becuase these were from folk who were not constrained by party lines, rigid dogma, commercial pressure or the need to stir up a rating or two.

But you know what? I'm still none the wiser.

And worse, my trust level is going down... further. All of a sudden I'm being sprung with stuff on little or no deadline, and it makes me suspicious: 'We've run out: this is the only way. Agree to it NOW!'. Prices have doubled and can only rise... but, conveniently, would you like to lock into the current rate for ten years?'. 'Donate to us or we'll die'. 'Give voice to our opinion or we'll throw our toys out of the pram, and then come and throw yours out to if you're not with us'.

As far as I can make out, the big problem is global warming. And this, at best guess, is not being helped to the greatest degree by greenhouse gasses. So we need to get these out of the atmosphere,  whilst reducing (to zero?) any more going back up form our activities. 

No one is going near the whole expanding, increasingly affluent (and hence not too likely too be tilling their fields for a lifetime with one visit a decade to the big city) global population.

So there are more of us, wanting more stuff (which takes energy to make) and needing more energy to run it all once we've got it.

So it's back to the numbers. What will it cost me financially, and the planet environmentally to a) survive (eat, drink, house, heat, etc) and b) consume (travel, entertain, etc)?

I can then get to what I'm am prepared to pay (money, inconvenience, etc) and what costs I am prepared to bear (reduced travel, less 'stuff', blemished potatoes, etc). 

But I don't feel close to those numbers. Look at the current nuclear debate. Just as one small example, it is admitted that while a nuclear power station does not produce greenhouse gasses (though I bet there's steam, which didn't I read was now a greenhouse gas?), its construction, operation and disposal has a 'carbon consequence'. Not to mention the glowy thingies that are left behind (anyone recall Space 1999? I personally blame The Simpsons for making this stuff seem harmless). 

However, I then see wind farms being deemed carbon neutral. Are they? It seems an omission on par with electric cars being called 'non-polluting'. There has to be a carbon consequence to making them, erecting them, running them and dismantling them at end of life, as with anything. It may be less operationally than nuclear, but it sure is not zero. And once the subsidy factor has been stripped away, how to they match up in terms of cost-effectiveness?  

Plus if you really want to get complex you can go on to break out the environmental costs per kWhr as well, surely? 

How is it so hard to derive a clear cost for the 'product' amortised over its life? Try this for a nuke and a wind farm:

Cost to build / Carbon consequence to build
Cost to operate / Carbon consequence to operate
Cost to decommission/ Carbon consequence to decommission

But that against what they crank out and... hence we get a £/KWh and CC/KWh for each. 

I am prepared to bet the wind farm will win in spades on all three (maybe close on building)


We have to also look at what 'we' are expected to suck out of these things. No point going a route that can't deliver. 

That... is a whole new ball of wax.

Going ballistic with statistics

In an ideal world, everyone would would cooperate in doing what's
best for them. Glad I got that out of the way.

In the real world, everyone has a different view of what's best...
for them(selves & us). A pol with an eye on a few decades tenure with
a legacy to enjoy while he/she is still alive (I don't think they
worry too much about the afterlife). A manufacturer with an eye on
shareholder value. A lobby group with an office, ad budget and staff
pension to pay for. A family with a fixed income, uncertain pension
and the prospect of a cold winter ahead.

So I was looking last night at my utility bills. Gas, electric,
telecoms, insurance, water and rates. Can't do much about the last
two, so I was concentrating on the the first few.

Trouble is, I ended up pretty confused. And that is not a good way to
arrive at a valid decision. It should all be so simple. All I need is
a cost per unit. Even with some jiggery-pokery on standing charges
and payment plans, that's all I need to make my decision. BTUs,
kilowatts, you name it. It is but a consumable item I don't see, that
has to meet certain quality standards to get to me and do its job,
whoever it comes from. So if I can get to the number I seek, it's
simple. I'll buy the cheapest.


What about the planet? So now it gets a wee bit more complicated. But
really it shouldn't, at least financially. If there is a loading, so
be it. Just so long as I know how much and can make that financial call.


Where is this money going to? And where is this energy coming from?
Am I paying for green energy, or funding some alternative energy
subsidy to a system tasked to meet targets rather than best-case
solutions (whatever they may be), or to help fund some pressure group
I may not endorse who are lending their name to promoting a
commercial, competitive, enterprise?

I don't know.

And inasmuch as a lot of my day is reading waaaaaay to much on this
issue already, and am still none the wiser, I'm pretty sure not many
other members of the average working public are either.

So I think the best way to sort this out before we discuss our way
into oblivion is to try to get someone to give us a big, juicy (no
endorsement intended or implied) KISS. Please! Is it not possible to
strip away all the political and activist baggage and pare down the
big issues by Keeping It Simple & Stupid?

I'll offer my thoughts on developing that naive, idealistic plea in
another blog.