May 2014 Archives

The Petroleum Product That Can Save Millions Of Lives Each Year

Professor Kirk R. Smith, writing at Forbes:

The fracking furor over shale gas is the latest in a series of environmental debates that have bedeviled the oil and gas industry in spite of what might be considered an enviable record compared to related industries, coal for example. From off shore spills to the Keystone Pipeline, the industry probably feels a bit set upon at times. Similarly, its products are often the focus of environmental concern and consequent strict regulation, for example diesel air pollution. Finally, it often bears the brunt of concerns about carbon dioxide emissions leading to climate change risks.

The industry might keep in mind, however, that one of its products, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG — bottled gas containing propane and butane), is actually the most effective solution available for the largest environmental health risk in the world: cooking with solid fuels.


There is some opposition in the environmental community to promoting LPG, a fossil fuel, because of climate concerns. In reality, however, because of the poor combustion typical in biomass stoves, which produces black carbon, methane, and other climate-active pollutants, and the often non-renewable nature of the biomass supplies, which results in CO2 emissions, the net climate impact of a switch to LPG would be negligible. Even if only considering CO2, the incremental impact on global emissions of a switch to LPG would be no more than a percent of the emissions from the developed sector globally. It is not cooking by the poor that poses risk to the climate.

Nature: Deadly Dinners

A decent journalistic piece in Nature about household energy use and health. My favorite bit, from the one-two punch of Kirk Smith & Kalpana Balakrishnan:

After decades of battling to get people to use improved cooking-stoves, many researchers worry that such devices will never win over consumers and thus never achieve the desired health and climate gains. “My bottom line is that nothing works,” Smith says. “The only thing we know that’s ever worked is gas and electric.”

Balakrishnan makes a moral argument against improved cooking stoves, which still produce harmful amounts of pollutants compared with LPG or electric ones, powered by remote energy plants that comonly use fossil fuels. “Are you justified in saying that it’s OK to be just a little bit better?” she asks. “If it’s OK for 40% of the population to use fossil fuels, then why is not OK for the other 60% of the population? How can we have dual standards?”

Nature chimes in on clean cookstoves

Today, in Nature:

Even though high-profile programmes have distributed millions of stoves to households in south Asia, Africa and Latin America, it is hard to find signs that the stoves are being widely used. There is a vast gap between reported accomplishments and what researchers see when they step into people’s homes.

The crux of the problem is that simply supplying the stoves does not establish demand for them.


Efforts could be redirected to providing people with the energy they most aspire to: not a stove designed by someone in the developed world to cook cleaner, but the actual stoves used in the developed world, which run on electricity or hydrocarbons such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

This is not an absurd goal. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that bringing electricity and clean-cooking facilities to every person on Earth by 2030 will cost US$49 billion a year. Although that is a considerable sum, the agency points to major commitments by Indonesia, Ghana and Nigeria to aggressively switch large portions of their population to cooking with LPG.

Where will all this new energy come from? It will require some additional consumption of fossil fuels, and that will increase the emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But the extra pollution would be minimal at the global scale: the IEA estimates that it would boost CO2 emissions by just 0.7% above its base scenario.


Point Reyes: Estero Trail to Drake's Head

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Pretty early on Sunday morning, I hit the road to Point Reyes for a 10-ish mile trail run. I decided to explore parts of the Estero trail. Beth and I hiked Estero to Sunset Beach in April — and it was really spectacular. I decided to go a bit south of Sunset Beach to Drake’s Head.

The morning began densely fogged in. Some cows blocked the road for a few minutes. By the time I got to the parking lot, the sun was out; it was pretty warm.

I followed the trail marker through some dense grass that gave way to a sandy trail. It winds by and through one magical patch of forest — and then another. As you emerge from the forest, you can see Home Bay, where you can stand on a bridge and admire various birds in the estuary. Be sure to look down to the rocks, where you may see dozens of crabs scuttling about. The trail continues up to a pretty great view and then meanders, up and down, through some beautiful estuaries hidden amidst rocky terrain and pasture land.

Eventually (2.5ish miles in), you’ll hit a fork in the road that points to a number of destinations — including Sunset Beach and Drake’s Head. Either endpoint is well worth it. I turned towards Drake’s Head. The trail disappears a bit amongst more pasture land. Expect to see quite a few large, mainly docile cows. Arrows pop up every now and then to point you in the right direction.

Eventually you hit another trail marker pointing towards Drake’s Head. Turn down that ‘trail’, and follow the faint path to the beautiful bluff viewpoint. Despite the lack of a formal trail and the numerous bovine companions, the walk is straightforward and the endpoint is visible for much of it.

The views from Drake’s Head are incredible. You can see Limantour Spit and Estero, Drake’s Bay, and up and down the coast. I saw one person on the way to Drake’s Head and two or three on the way out; I had the bluff to myself for the half hour I spent there. A beautiful, solitary hike (or run). One of my new favorites.

Last Week Tonight's John Oliver on Climate Change, Scientific Consensus

Priceless. More, please.

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