July 2013 Archives

China to spend $277 billion to curb air pollution

Reuters, reporting on statements by Chinese state-run media:

China plans to invest 1.7 trillion yuan ($277 billion) to combat air pollution over the next five years, state media said on Thursday, underscoring the new government’s concerns about addressing a key source of social discontent.

The money is to be spent primarily in regions that have heavy air pollution and high levels of PM 2.5, the state-run China Daily newspaper quoted Wang Jinnan, vice-president of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning as saying. Wang helped draft the plan.

EIA: World energy consumption will increase 56% by 2040

EIA’s recently released International Energy Outlook 2013 (IEO2013) projects that world energy consumption will grow by 56% between 2010 and 2040, from 524 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) to 820 quadrillion Btu. Most of this growth will come from non-OECD (non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, where demand is driven by strong economic growth.

Renewable energy and nuclear power are the world’s fastest-growing energy sources, each increasing 2.5% per year. However, fossil fuels continue to supply nearly 80% of world energy use through 2040. Natural gas is the fastest-growing fossil fuel, as global supplies of tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane increase.

The industrial sector continues to account for the largest share of delivered energy consumption and is projected to consume more than half of global delivered energy in 2040. Based on current policies and regulations governing fossil fuel use, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise to 45 billion metric tons in 2040, a 46% increase from 2010. Economic growth in developing nations, fueled by a continued reliance on fossil fuels, accounts for most of the emissions increases.

And now, some whimsy: Beer Labels in Motion

David Simon: "...real pride is earned and internalized only with a grown-up understanding that even a good or great nation, while deserving of our allegiance and civic commitment, can indeed shame itself."

David Simon, writing toward his vocal detractors, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin decision:

To those who can’t conceive of anyone ever being ashamed, or expressing shame at those moments when this country abandons or even betrays its core values, I’m actually willing to go even further than my initial comment: You may, in fact, be the one who doesn’t understand what it means to be a proud American. Not truly and not deeply; not without some measure of shame as well.

Why not? Because just as good cannot be truly understood to the marrow without a corresponding sense of evil, pride in one’s country — if it is substantive pride, and not merely the rote, pledge-allegiance mouthings of patriotic cliche — requires the sober knowledge that American greatness is neither assured, nor heaven-sent. It comes to us from our national premise and ideals — and our willingness to maintain those things at all hazards. And if you’ve never felt ashamed for us for having strayed from our core values in even the most appalling ways — say, the wartime detention of Japanese-Americans, or a My Lai or Kent State , or Bull Conner, or COINTELPRO, or life sentences for juvenile defendants, or prisons-for-profit — then maybe you’ve never really acknowledged what the actual stakes are for a republic, or how much work, rather than platitude, is required to assure an honorable, democratic future. Yes, you claim an all-encompassing pride and you wallow in it, brooking not even a mention of anything shameful that happens on our watch as citizens. But in fact, real pride is earned and internalized only with a grown-up understanding that even a good or great nation, while deserving of our allegiance and civic commitment, can indeed shame itself. Saying so when it happens is a fundamental of self-governance, as all dissent is a fundamental of self-governance.

NASA: The Day the Earth Smiled

That’s something, isn’t it?

In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. It is only one footprint in a mosaic of 33 footprints covering the entire Saturn ring system (including Saturn itself). At each footprint, images were taken in different spectral filters for a total of 323 images: some were taken for scientific purposes and some to produce a natural color mosaic. This is the only wide-angle footprint that has the Earth-moon system in it.

"Warp drive. Like on 'Star Trek.'"

Harold G. White, a physicist and advanced propulsion engineer at NASA, beckoned toward a table full of equipment there on a recent afternoon: a laser, a camera, some small mirrors, a ring made of ceramic capacitors and a few other objects.

He and other NASA engineers have been designing and redesigning these instruments, with the goal of using them to slightly warp the trajectory of a photon, changing the distance it travels in a certain area, and then observing the change with a device called an interferometer. So sensitive is their measuring equipment that it was picking up myriad earthly vibrations, including people walking nearby. So they recently moved into this lab, which floats atop a system of underground pneumatic piers, freeing it from seismic disturbances.

The team is trying to determine whether faster-than-light travel — warp drive — might someday be possible.

Warp drive. Like on “Star Trek.”

This is a fun one. They’ve also got a nice statement from Neil deGrasse Tyson:

“Routine travel among the stars is impossible without new discoveries regarding the fabric of space and time, or capability to manipulate it for our needs,” he said, adding, “By my read, the idea of a functioning warp drive remains far-fetched, but the real take-away is that people are thinking about it — reminding us all that the urge to explore continues to run deep in our species.”

Thomas Prior's Insane Photos from Fireworks in Tultepec, Mexico & El Torito de Antigua

Kottke linked to Thomas Prior’s collection of celebrations laden with fireworks in Mexico. Madness.

The original article at Wired tells us a bit more:

The annual nine-day festival attracts more than 100,000 people to bathe in the glow of pyrotechnicians’ expert displays. The main event is the Pamplonada — a seven-hour running of the (wooden) bulls in which more than 200 timber-framed toros of fire roll through the streets with up to 4,000 fireworks on each in perpetual explosion.

Tultepec is the center of the country’s firework industry, accounting for half of all fireworks made in Mexico. Approximately 30,000 of the 120,000 Tultepec townsfolk work in the pyrotechnics industry building frames, supplying parts and distributing goods. Two thousand work daily in the 300 registered workshops manufacturing fireworks.

The National Pyrotechnic Festival takes place in honor of Saint John of God, the patron saint of hospitals, the sick, nurses, firefighters and alcoholics — quite fitting given the occasion’s flaming revelry and danger.

Those photos reminded me of some revelry I encountered in Guatemala. Witness El Torito de Antigua:

The video actually captures it pretty well. The nonchalance of the fellow who’s got explosives strapped to a wooden bull he’s wearing over his head. The nervous, bemused excitement and terror of the crowd. The madness of the entire endeavor. Not quite the same level insanity as in Tultepec… but of a similar. Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be pyrotechnics.

We also monitored air pollution in the plaza (of course) during the march of El Torito.

Nicola Twilley's The Coldscape

Nicola Twilley, writing at Cabinet Magazine:

More than three-quarters of the food consumed in the United States today is processed, packaged, shipped, stored, and sold under artificial refrigeration. The shiny, humming stainless steel box in your kitchen is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak—a tiny fragment of the vast global network of temperature-controlled storage and distribution warehouses cumulatively capable of hosting uncounted billions of cubic feet of chilled flesh, fish, or fruit. Add to that an equally vast and immeasurable volume of thermally controlled space in the form of shipping containers, wine cellars, floating fish factories, international seed banks, meat-aging lockers, and livestock semen storage, and it becomes clear that the evolving architecture of coldspace is as ubiquitous as it is varied, as essential as it is overlooked.

Fascinating read. Good summary and follow up by Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic. The Center for Land Use Interpretation has an exhibit with Twilley called “PERISHABLE: AN EXPLORATION OF THE REFRIGERATED LANDSCAPE OF AMERICA” featuring many of the places Twilley has visited and including a pretty neat interactive app of some of the key cold-storage sites throughout the US.

And, from January of 2013, listen to a Here and Now story with Twilley about this work.

Report of the US-China Climate Change Working Group

From the report:

We have prepared this Report mindful of the overwhelming scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change and its worsening impacts, as well as the urgent need to intensify global efforts to combat climate change. Rising temperatures are predicted to lead to sea level rise that could affect tens of millions of people around the world, as well as more frequent and intense heat waves, intensified urban smog, and droughts and floods in our most productive agricultural regions. Global climate change represents a grave threat to the economic livelihood and security of all nations, but it also represents a significant opportunity for sustainable development that will benefit both current and future generations. We believe that ambitious domestic action by China and the United States is more critical than ever. China has given high priority to building an “Ecological Civilization” by striving for green, circular and low-carbon development. It has adopted proactive policies and measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The United States is implementing robust policies to promote renewable energy, enhance energy efficiency, and reduce emissions from transportation, buildings, and the power sector. Both countries recognize the need to work together to continue and build on these important efforts.

Five key areas of collaboration were outlined.

  1. Emission reductions from heavy-duty and other vehicles.
  2. Smart Grids
  3. Carbon capture, utilization, and storage.
  4. Collecting and managing greenhouse gas emissions data.
  5. Energy efficiency in buildings and industry.

There’s an explicit acknowledgement of coal as a bad actor here, but nothing explicated about moving from dirty to clean fuels for generation of electricity. Some mentions of co-benefits, as well.

New music from Volcano Choir / Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver): Byegone

Volcano Choir's new album is coming in September. In the meantime, tide yourself over with Byegone.

'Don't Be Evil' my ass: Google hosts fundraises for climate denier

From the Guardian:

The Lunch, at the company's Washington office, will benefit the Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe, who has made a career of dismissing climate change as a "hoax" on the Senate floor.

Proceeds of the 11 July lunch, priced at $250 to $2,500, will also go to the national Republican Senatorial Committee.

It's the second show of support from Google for the anti-climate cause in recent weeks.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that the internet company had donated $50,000 for a fundraising dinner for the ultra-conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute – topping the contributions even of the Koch oil billionaires.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has launched multiple law suits aimed at trying to discredit the science behind climate change – accusing scientists of fraud. None have so far succeeded.

The CEI also specialises in filing open records requests, demanding universities turn over email correspondence of climate scientists with journalists.

Facebook also contributed $25,000 to the CEI dinner last month.

Google responded:

... a company spokesperson noted that Google maintained data centres in Oklahoma. The spokesperson then sent an email saying: "We regularly host fundraisers for candidates, on both sides of the aisle, but that doesn't mean we endorse all of their positions. And while we disagree on climate change policy, we share an interest with Senator Inhofe in the employees and data center we have in Oklahoma."

NYTimes: "A single word tucked into a presidential speech...

Justin Gillis, writing in the NYT about Obama's choice to use the word divest:

He knows that if he is to get serious climate policies on the books before his term ends in 2017, he needs a mass political movement pushing for stronger action. No broad movement has materialized in the United States; 350.org and its student activists are the closest thing so far, which may be why Mr. Obama gazes fondly in their direction.

“I’m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends,” he said plaintively at Georgetown. “What we need in this fight are citizens who will stand up, and speak up, and compel us to do what this moment demands.”

Let's hope the movement towards divestment grows.

Backpacking to Sword Lake

Ben, Katy, Oliver, Jessica, Beth and I set out to the Sierras on Thursday morning for a couple of nights of camping, swimming, hiking, and bumming around Sword Lake, located in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. The trip came together at the last minute... and turned out spectacularly.

Beth and I made it out of the East Bay relatively easily, with no real incidents on the road and only minor traffic as we passed through Oakdale. The drive was pleasant enough. We stopped at the Summit Ranger Station near Pinecrest, CA, where we rendezvoused with the Lovehardgolds and got a camping permit. We were warned by the Ranger Station staff to expect some crowds at the lake, given its popularity and the long weekend.

After lunch a mile or so up from Pinecrest, we turned off of 108 and onto a dusty, slow county road and made our way to the trailhead. We arrived to a nearly empty parking lot -- only one other car was there. A good sign. We packed up and hit the trail. The walk to the lake was nice -- a few scenic vistas, fields full of wildflowers, and shady, interspersed groves of large trees. Ben and I scoped out campsites on both sides of the lake; Ben spotted a good one, slightly above the lake but with some shade. We set up our two-day home there. We saw a few other folks, but basically had the lake and surrounding environs to ourself. A pretty spectacular find.

From a small hill east of our campsite, the Dardanelles and Spicer Meadow Reservoir were visible. Mornings and evenings atop that hill were especially magical, with the entire landscape bathed in warm, pinkish orange hues. Our last morning at the site, I stumbled up there and had lovely views of the surroundings and an encounter with a deer unfazed by my presence.

In tow was amazing little Oliver, who (as usual) was a delight. The boy loves the outdoors and was (1) an avid swimmer in the hands of his parents and aunt; (2) a rampant mover of dirt, using any utensil available; (3) a burgeoning climber; and (4) a rockstar. He was a smiley, giggly, and sometimes weepy joy.

On the way out, the crowds streamed in. When we got back to the parking lot, it was brimming with vehicles. We were lucky to have missed the masses! A fun trip with lovely, lovely people.

Photos from the trip are at Flickr.

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