Category: Climate Change

Musing on natural resources

“Any natural resource not used was wealth wasted” — it’s a quote I read in a book, and both a phrase and an ideology that I’ve been musing on. It’s an intersection of capitalism and empirical science — whilst it is difficult to ascribe a value to a “resource at rest”, there is an empirical measurement of that resources value once it is extracted and sold.


Reverse Electrification

Back when federal law phased out the sale of incandescent light bulbs, people stockpiled these bulbs instead of buying more energy efficient bulbs in the future. As I see California approve Advanced Clean Cars II — and Washington and New York looking to follow in California’s path — I wonder if de-electrification is going to become an industry.

Basically the reverse of buying a petrol vehicle with a blown motor and converting it to an EV … buying an EV (because that’s all that is available to be purchased as a new vehicle), buying a crate motor (also legal), and swapping the electric propulsion system for a petrol one. Eventually, reduced demand may well turn gasoline into an expensive, niche product produced in some small-batch refinery. Until then, I can absolutely see the incandescent bulb hording types going for re-petroliumed vehicles.

Arguing with the science

A week or so ago, I came across an article referencing a book about how climate impact will be inequitable — and, while reading the article, I rather disagreed with some of their assumptions. I later encountered an online discussion about the article — which included, among a few other dissenters, an admonishment not to “argue with the science”. Problem, there, is arguing with the science is the whole point of the scientific method. The point of peer-review publications. And, really, modeling socio-economic impact of climate change (or even modeling climate change itself) isn’t a science like modeling gravity or radioactive decay. These kind of models usually involve a lot of possible outcomes with associated probabilities. And ‘argue with the science’ I will!

Certainly, some of the rich will move out first. You can air condition your house and car into being habitable. Companies can set up valet services for everything. But your chosen location is becoming very limiting – no outdoor concerts, no outdoor sports games. You can make it habitable, but you could also spend some money, live elsewhere, and have oh so many more options. Most likely you’d see an increase in second homes – Arizona for the winter and a place up north for summers. Which might not show up as ‘migration’ depending on which they use as their ‘permanent’ address.

People with fewer resources, though, face obstacles to moving. Just changing jobs is challenging. It’s one thing to transfer offices in a large company or be a remote employee who can live anywhere. But can a cashier at Walmart ask their manager to get transferred from Phoenix to Boston? What about employees of smaller businesses that don’t have a more northern location? Going a few weeks without pay on top of moving expense (that rental deposit is a huge one – I’ve known many people stuck in a crappy apartment because they have to save the deposit to move. Sure you get your previous deposit back, but that takes weeks)? Really makes me question the reality of mass migration of poor people.

On Five Dollar Gas

This is the third or fourth time in the last decade that I’ve been seeing news reports about “5 dollar gas” or, more generally, astronomical rise in petroleum prices. How much it costs to fill a tank, how much a gallon costs, how this impacts family budgets.

Oddly, I’ve never seen any reporting discuss ways to minimize the impact that higher gasoline prices have. Any help at all, from the trivial (make sure your tires are well inflated, drive at less congested times to avoid idling in traffic, plan excursions so you’re not making a trip “into town” for different errands three days in a row) to the expensive (buy a more fuel efficient car). There’s nothing.

This is how the free market works — something becomes expensive, you need to consider other options. Buying an electric car isn’t cheap — expensive enough that it’s not an option for some people. But driving an electric car is a way to minimize the direct impact fuel prices have on you. At an enterprise level, electric trucks can reduce the indirect impact of fuel prices.

Your Own Facts: TX Power Edition

I’m not sure how political discourse has any point if everyone maintains their own facts to support their preconceived conclusion. How can you fix a problem when you cannot even agree what the problem is? The power outage in Texas is a prime example. Someone got on Hannity and spouted off about how it’s all the windmill’s fault. Because, evidently, windmills are awful? Froze up and just stopped producing power.

But wind turbines absolutely work in freezing temperatures. See, for instance, Alaska — — where it does occasionally get cold. The difference is that they spend more on the installation and winterize the windmills. It’s not *wind turbines* that have a problem, it’s *unwinterized* wind turbines that end up in freezing weather. Same is true of cars (you may need what amounts to an electric blanket for the engine to get a diesel vehicle running in cold weather, and the fuel can still jell at very low temperatures). And people — going outside in a coat, scarf, hat, boots, and women’s gloves seemed like being appropriately dressed for the weather, but I was invariably super cold and hated going outside in winter. Found out that normal women’s gloves don’t have insulation in the fingers (because it is, evidently, more important that my fingers look svelte than that my fingers aren’t nearing frostbite stage) and bought ski gloves. Traded the hat and scarf for a balaclava. Traded the coat for insulated overalls with a coat. Traded cute winter boots for waterproof Mucks. Winter is an awesome time to head outside now. It’s bulky attire, but I’m warm. Sometimes, when we’re shoveling snow in just-below-freezing temps, I’m too warm.

Other production sources shut down because they were inadequately winterized too — natural gas pipelines were blocked with ice, frozen coal piles made it difficult to keep coal plants online, solar installations were covered in snow, frozen pumps limited water to nuclear cooling towers … basically every form of electrical generation experienced limited production in the cold weather.

The benefit of spending more money on a precaution you use once a decade is certainly a valid debate — but the consequence of that decision need to be anticipated, to be accepted … and the problem needs to be communicated accurately. If it would have cost a billion dollars over the past decade (essentially the span since the “last time this happened”) to maintain winterized generation and delivery facilities … we opted to save a billion dollars with the current situation as the trade-off. Voters don’t like that? They can vote for someone who will demand winterization. Voters prefer saving the money, vote for the current people. Sucks for the 49% who vote the other way … but that’s democracy.

But that doesn’t work when individuals have “facts” to support what they want to believe. The reader poll in my county paper today asked who deserves the most blame for the power failure in Texas. 23% say windmills and green energy. Wind facility shutdowns accounted for less than 13% of the outages. I haven’t seen numbers for reduction in solar generation … but wind production is the one being scapegoated.

It took a few days for reporting to include the fact Texas has its own power grid with smaller interconnects to other grids that aren’t sized to pull enough power to cover this outage. Even now, does much reporting include the fact Texas maintains its own grid to avoid federal regulations that would have required some winterization? That’s not lack of regulation, that’s intentionally designing a system to avoid existing regulations. Poor leadership is too vague to be meaningful — poor leadership at ERCOT failing to take some action in the past week or two that would have magically prevented problems? Poor leadership in intentionally maintaining a loosely connected grid that avoided federal regulations to reduce cost? Those are whole different types of “poor leadership” which may or may not be viable paths to prevent this from happening again in 2031.


Propublica Climate Change Impact Predictions By County

Propublica has climate change impact predictions, but the county-level data is not particularly useful for data mining. You can sort individual columns, but it’s not possible to filter out data or sort by multiple criteria. I dropped the data into an Propublica Climate Impact Modeling Excel Spreadsheet to make it more usable. We’ve been talking about buying a couple hundred acres somewhere in the next 5-10 years … and I wanted to identify good long-term prospects (i.e. don’t want to move somewhere only to find that heat, humidity, drought, or wild fires make it an untenable location)