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Solarpunk rising, or how to turn boring bureaucratic meetings into creative fodder

I'm not a Solarpunk, I just play one in real life, it seems. While Charlie's out doing important stuff, I decided I'd drop a brief, meandering essay in here for the regular crowd of commenters to say some variation on, "Why yes, that's (adjective) obvious," and to eventually turn the conversation around to the relative merits of either trains or 20th Century weapons systems, if we can get past comment 100.

As most of you know, I do a lot of environmentalism, so much so in fact that I'm not working any creative writing right now (except this!), just going to meetings and reading environmental impact reports (if you don't know anything about California's perennial punching bag, CEQA), well, don't bother, it's tedious). This post was inspired by what I saw in the process of the San Diego County Supervisors approving the most developer-friendly version of the County Climate Action Plan (CAP) that they could. The details of about seven hours of meetings really don't matter, but the universality of what happened might, at least a little.

The situation (try to stifle those yawns in back, they're impolite) is that California, like the rest of the civilized world and unlike much of the US, has the goal of actually meeting the Paris Accords, and we've got the sunshine to do it. At least in the southern part of the state. Maybe. Moreover, because California's kinda bureaucratic, every municipality has to have a general plan telling people what they can build and where. By 2020-ish, said general plans are also supposed to include a section on how each municipality will meet the state's goals on decarbonizing. Yay! Or rather, meh, because these documents tend to err on the side of vague aspiration, for reasons that will become obvious below.

So San Diego County just approved CAP 2.0, CAP 1.0 having been litigated out of existence a couple of years ago. As is usual with such decisions, the public got to testify before the supervisors voted. Here's a sampling of the testimony at the approval meeting, highly digested:

• the building industry claimed meeting the CAP is too expensive. Figures were disputed, but since almost everyone on the county planning commission is a (retired) developer and the supervisors are pro-development, "too expensive" got repeated ad nauseum, especially by one elder who ranted about spending more than $10k on solar at a home in Hawai'i. Obviously said personage hasn't checked the prices recently, but that's what you get with appointed commissioners.

• The urban forestry crowd wanted more trees in the streets to sequester carbon. Street trees have about the same lifespan as a plastic lawn chair, and San Diego is known for, well, droughts and such, but more street trees would be good, no? Who can argue against that?

• The enviros were talking about carbon farming, where we get carbon sequestered into farm soils or whatever. It sounded good, mostly because we don't know anything about it.

• The agriculture community, which has been ripping out avocado and orange orchards since there's no more water for them, pointed out that they could plant two orders of magnitude more trees than the urban foresters could, if only someone could give them more water. Oddly enough, that's a huge problem, given water wars, increasing urban demand for water, and all that. They're experimenting with putting carbon into soils here too, just to see if it'll work like we enviros keep saying. Good on them.

• What set us enviros off was the notion of carbon offsets (read "indulgences for polluters") where somebody whose project farts off a lot of greenhouse gases can buy something (a tree farm, or a marsh restoration, or a livestock manure digester that burns the methane into CO2, which is a less potent greenhouse gas) and claim credit for offsetting their emissions. Wanna buy some Congolese swampland or Indonesian peatlands? I'm not joking: these would be great places to buy, if only you could be sure that your investment wasn't just taken by FlyByNight Sequestration Opportunities (accepts only cryptocurrencies), with documentation returned to you in a one-ply roll with perforated sheets to tear off. Anyway, most of the local enviros want the County to make sure that carbon offsets happen only in San Diego county for preference, or in California, where we can theoretically see if anything useful was done with the money spent on the indulgence, excuse me, the carbon offset. Did I mention how easy it is to game the documentation? Sad that I'm so cynical as to think that would happen.

• Then there was stupid ol' me, commenting that it's effing hard to do carbon offsets in San Diego, because of that little drought and climate change thing, with a side helping of tree-killing beetle plagues. Everybody looked at me like I'd sprouted two heads and sold my soul to Koch, until I explained that carbon offsets only really work if you take the carbon out of the air for a century. That means century-old street trees, avocado trees, orange trees, pine trees in the mountains, farm soil holding carbon, restored marsh peat, whatever. The carbon bank has to keep the greenhouse gases out of the air for at least a century. Burn the trees, oxidize the marsh soils, or over-till the farmlands, and all the carbon goes back into the air just as climate change really gets roaring. The other enviros are starting to get it, kinda, while I'm left wishing I'd brought this up years ago, so they'd be more up to speed. Am I the only enviro around here who's had plant physiology and even published a paper modeling plant growth? Why yes, unfortunately, I am. Most of the people involved don't understand how the numbers work. Argh!

Alright, here's where you wake up again. The underlying theme of the above mess? Ignorance. How do all of us think San Diego will meet its climate goals? By dumping the carbon in some place we don't know much about, since all the options we do know about don't seem to be good enough. Surprise! Here's how it would work in real life:

We could put solar panels on every roof, as environmentalists (including me) have been ignorantly harping for years. Except that the median SD income is $64,000, the median home price is $540,000, solar panels are around $15-20,000, and most people can't afford them yet. So, um, yeah, that means more big solar panels out in the backcountry and the desert, probably trashing a lot of wildlands (and Ol' Cheeto Grande and his cronies just stuck their middle manipulative digits in to make that harder). It's easy to argue on a moral basis that each city should power itself. But to do that in the real world, you've got to solve little things like housing crises, so that each building owner can actually afford to buy and maintain the necessary infrastructure.

We could offset our emissions in the County, except that almost certainly means piping in more water from somewhere else, like it was 1950 or something. And yes, desalination is pretty effin' expensive, thanks so much for thinking about that option. Wanna eat a $10 avocado and pay to keep the tree producing it alive for the next century?

We could offset our emissions elsewhere, except that not getting scammed over the next century is kinda hard, especially since the people buying these indulgences might not really care if they're getting scammed or not.

Notice how just one City's flailing around to become sustainable could affect areas around the globe? To me, that's the real Solarpunk. Multiply that by around 3,500,000,000 (something like the number of people living in cities now), and you can see new ways in which urban demands are going to punk the 97 percent of Earth's surface that isn't urbanized.

With Solarpunk, we should be talking about aesthetics and aspirations, like, say, wooden skyscrapers, cities ditching problematic sewers and turning to using sustainably-sourced humanure production to sequester carbon by sending this urban carbon to be buried in the untilled soil on multi-ethnic, diversely gendered, community supported, sustainable farms. With all the pathogens nicely controlled, thank you very much. And definitely there must be shiny solar panels on every surface that points either to the equator or to the west.

Unfortunately, the real-world trends embodied in events like the meetings I regurgitated above mean that the next few decades are far more likely to be old-school Noir Solarpunk, with the wealthy and powerful forcing the rural and less advantaged to deal with the problems activists like me bring up, just as they have for decades now.

Kinda sucks, but that doesn't mean that the Solarpunks should give up their ideals. It just means that, if they want their work to have drama, tension, and (dare I say it?) relevance, then they need to stop dreaming about moving to Wakanda and go to more boring meetings. It's amazing what you can learn while you're trying to sit through those things.

Oh yeah, comments. Have fun chewing on this. It's not that we're doomed (help the thread hit 100 comments and you can bewail Teh Doom to your hearts' content after comment #100). Rather, it's that we don't really understand most of what's going on, and ignorance in action leads to, well, gonzo literature. In a slightly more realistic Solarpunk work, for every pastel-tinted "plyscraper," there's going to be a multinational solar plant where an irrigated farm in a poor rural county used to be, with food prices rising as a result. For every shipping container farmlet installed, there's going to be ten carbon offset scams. For every environmentalist wondering if the end of internal combustion means the end of a lot of the weeds that air pollution fertilized, there's going to be a score of urban planners frustrated by how hard it is to rebuild car-driven cities to accommodate a 100% electric fleet, when batteries turn out to be not as good as gas. And so it goes. This mess is where solar goes punk. What do you think it will look like?

557 Comments

1:

For California, a whole lot of industrial scale solar in the desert. Because that is the cheapest solve, and a whole lot of californias power use is for air con, which means solar natively load-follows fairly well.

Possibly some biting of the sour apple and some reactors to meet night-time (and a part of day) demand, though given politics, those might end up going up across a state line so that California can boast both being carbon and nuke free, and pay no attention to that ten-gigawatt interconnect.

Desal is going to happen, simply because Californias cities are already paying high enough prices to justify it. Agriculture is not, but if we are importing israeli technology, they have much more water-efficient irrigation schemes than are currently in use in the US as well as affordable desal.

2:

Add some more of those industrial solar panels in the desert, use their output to power the manufacture of polyethylene (both transparent, and mixed with carbon black). In time, California's views of the Pacific become dominated by shining expanses of vast rafts of floating plastic solar stills.

3:

...Bum. Missed some words out: the manufacture of polyethylene using atmospheric CO2 as the source of the carbon.

4:

.. lets see, more creative moves: Mangrove plantations for climate engineering and economic profit - a lot of the California coast line is recreationally important.. but not all of it. Mangroves put moisture into the air as a side effect of, well, living, and what goes up, comes down. Thus, by planting a bunch of the shore line in mangroves farmed for fruit, timber, fish ect, you can up rainfall. Mangrove establishment currently has a very high failure rate, but that is definitely the kind of thing you can fix by applying throwing academic person-years at the problem.

5:

Or there is the Dream-Time Initiative. Australia is a desert because of megafauna die-off and fire based land use. The interior was once almost entirely forested. So.. Reforest it. You are going to need pretty large scale desalination to kickstart things, (.. or again, a whole lot of mangroves.), but once forested, it will keep raining there. For economic return, roaming pigs, fruit trees..

6:

Hm, if you want to go for real noir, digging into the private life of those involved is not an option? Just asking...

As for solars on roofs, I'm not sure what the break-even point of solar panels is ATM, but giving people the possibility to rent out roofs to some investors, making solar panels in other areas unprofitable through land-use planning and taxes and some financial incentives.

As for agriculture, any drought-resistant plants around? Not that much of my area, the only thing that comes to mind is Opuntia ficus-indica and Sisal, though I guess we don't have to go full succulent, are we?

For sewers, how about algae in the sea around cities sequenstering phosphates and like, dieing of and being used as fertilizer?

7:

Hah! Perfect! This is exactly what I'm talking about.

This is ignorance in action: the desert is presumed to be empty. The ocean is presumed to be empty. The coast is presumed to not be totally owned and worth about $1 million/acre. There's enough water, somewhere, to cool any number of nuclear reactors, and there are ample areas away from earthquake faults but near that ample water where they can be safely sited.

And so on. Problem is, like Australia, it's mostly owned by someone for some purpose.

8:

As for air conditioning, desalination might be to costly, but you could pump sea water into houses, spray it into droplets and use the evaporation to cool the air; somebody'd have to cart of the salt in a carbon-neutral way, of course.

Or just use cool sea water to cool the air.

9:

Solar panels are cheap, and getting cheaper. Rooftop work is not in any way, shape or form cheap. It is not likely to get cheap any time soon. This means the only economically viable way to use rooftop real-estate for solar is rooftop tiles with integrated cells.
Because in a well-designed system of that kind the labor costs are zero, since they are placed when people build or replace the roof in the normal course of construction or maintenance. But while this is very economically sensible, it is also very slow - Faster in the US, because current roofing practices in much of the country involves cheap roofs that do not last that long, but even there we are talking a decade at least to solar the roofs of a city.

Also.. there is the fact that solar rooftops are kind of terrible for the micro-climate. Solar tiles are black, so doing this makes urban heat islands worse. If you are going to be doing things with roof real-estate, I would much rather see a move towards rooftop gardens. Although that does really require the entire building to be able to support the weight.

10:

You came pretty close. In my post-crash California scenario, there are going to be big farms of Indian fig (Opuntia ficus-indica, which is annoyingly weedy) and agave (Agave tequilana or something similar). The Indian fig is a good source of both fruit (prickly pears) and vegetables (nopales), while the agave can be used for sugar or alcohol production, and the fiber in the leaves is similar to sisal (Agave sisalana) and can be used for paper.

11:

Err, what about dielectric mirrors reflecting infrared radiation against heat islands?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dielectric_mirror

12:

Forests are *much* more economically valuable than deserts. Which means the ownership thing will not be a problem for the dream-time crazy stunt.
Mangroves of cali, yes, that is a difficult unless you can make them attractive for leisure activities. Which means we are talking about.. very wet parks?

As for siting nukes. Yes, that is completely doable. Seriously. You cant plop them down nilly-willy, but electicity can be moved a long way and there are more than a sufficiency of good places.

13:

If you want to passively cool a city, the easiest way is white roof-tiles. Not that this is any faster than turning the roofs into a solar collector array.

14:

As for Indian fig being annoyingly weedy, same in the Mediterranean; apparantly putting some pieces into the earth and letting them grow is nature's own barbed wire in the part of Italy my family makes holiday in since more than 30 years. Err.

I was going to make some jokes about border militias, but I guess we might not go there. Yet. Maybe after comment 100. Same as the apocryphal mescaline content mentioned in one German book about African arrow poisons and herbal medicines. Put away first into safe storage when I decided to move out, so not avaiable at the moment, BTW...

Problem with agaves might be the long life cycle, though I guess Agave americana, AKA "century plant", which is quite common on the Riviera might be something of a special case.

Aloes don't seem to have as much uses. And I'm not sure if you could do some interesting things with the latex of Euphorbiaceae beside Hevea brasiliensis, except for really nasty toxins and useful probes in molecular biology, of course:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phorbol
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resiniferatoxin

15:

Actually, One shrubby mangrove got established in Mission bay in the 1960s. Attempts to remove it have so far failed.

As recreation, mangroves are rather...stinky. However, for carbon sequestration, they can be really good.

Still, considering how important the coast is to California, I'd predict that mangroves become common here some time after the Big One quake.

16:

Yes, but white tiles don't make any electricity. ;)

Idea would be to apply a dielectric mirror that reflects all the wavelengths not converted into electricity:

https://pvpmc.sandia.gov/modeling-steps/2-dc-module-iv/effective-irradiance/spectral-response/

17:

Come to think about it, the problems applying to solar panels in cities apply to solar panels in deserts, too.

OTOH it looks nice, solar panels creating shade, maybe lowering ground temperature, but then, desert albedo is likely somewhat higher than solar panels.

In the long run, deserts getting hotter might wreck havock with the climate; OTOH, well, the thermals it might get some of those clouds into air so cold it's going to rain. OTOH, goodby somewhat wet Rockies...

18:

As an environmental engineer ( environmental in the sense of attempting to clean up toxins in soils, groundwater, surface water and sediments)
I think you are right, but perhaps (not being sarcastic) underestimating how screwed up the regulatory process is here
And the politics is particularly unforgiving to good engineering

19:

Instead of street "trees", I wonder if there are other plants that might be more drought resistant that could help pull carbon out of the atmosphere? DIY "Passive" solar might still be viable?

Maybe time to dig out the old Whole Earth Catalog and/or back issues of Mother Earth News for ideas to help lower a carbon footprint that even people who don't have money for a half million dollar home could afford.

20:

Good engineering gets...interesting. I agree with you that the regulatory environment gets messy and political too often.

On the other hand, there are situations where, say, someone notices that one project wants to route a meter-wide water pipe underground through the same space that another project wants to route a 200 kilovolt electrical line. Is this dangerous or not? Hard to tell, when the regulators apparently don't want the engineers of the respective projects to get together and talk about safety. Hard to say what the good engineering solution is in this situation.

21:

I know that your situation was just an example, but you got me thinking. So, at the risk of derailing...

With fresh water in a polymer or ceramic main I would be more worried about service interruptions if the main brakes and the electrical conduit is breached than electrocutions. Coupling to the water might also put extra parasitic capacitance on the line, but that is going to depend a lot on the conduit design. But none of this is my field of expertise so...

22:

If engineers ran projects.....
On one hand you get Robert Moses freeways through projects, bad
On the other, I am literally losing the will to live work-wise, and there are no people keener on making the work\Le a better place than engineers....
If you have, for instance dealt with LEED requirements, you will know it’s almost always a snow job

23:

Oh yes, LEED. For those who don't know, here's some information.. Like most such things, it can be good, or be manipulated.

24:

I have to disagree with you about the economics of solar - they are rapidly becoming the cheapest form of generation. It's not, or it shouldn't be about whether individual households can afford the purchase price on top of their house price.

The panels provide an income (or an offset against purchased electricity, which is the same thing) and, in any sensible economy, householders can borrow the price of the installation against the income from the power generated. It doesn't matter, or it shouldn't matter, whether someone has a $200k mortgage or a $800k mortgage, because the cost and income from the solar isn't linked to the mortgage.

Given that San Diego has a) sun and b) plenty of stand-alone dwellings with large roof areas, then solar is a no-brainer. It's a similar situation to Australia, which has gone from <1% to 15% of house roofs in five years. If this isn't happening in San Diego, it's not for reasons of economics, it's for reasons of politics.

They only interesting question is whether that solar should be on home roofs or out in the desert. Home roof installation are more expensive, for the simple reason that small jobs at height are expensive. Solar farms out in the desert will always have economies of scale. As for "trashing wildlands", solar is pretty low in both area used and in impact upon the land used.

(Ok, there's a moral question about whether cities should solve their own problems in their own rohe or outsource those solutions, but that's outside the economics of the issue.)

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25:
As for solars on roofs, I'm not sure what the break-even point of solar panels is ATM, but giving people the possibility to rent out roofs to some investors [...]

I'm a little confused about what you were saying here, but on the off chance you didn't know all this...

Renting out peoples' roofs to investors is absolutely old hat in solar now, and indeed is the basic business concept of Elon Musk's Solar City company (now part of Tesla) as well as many others.

Basically, they come in and install panels on your roof for free. In return, they get a right to most of the power they produce (and hence the net metering refunds the electric utility provides), with some fraction going to the homeowner for their trouble. So in other words, they're paying money up front now under the promise that the panels will provide more electricity over the next 20 years.

This is obviously capital intensive (all those panels and panel installers), which is where the investors come in. A few years ago, they were raising the money by selling bonds tied to the power generation returns.

Of course, getting back to regulations... This whole idea implies that you're spending money now on the promise that solar power laws and utility regulations will remain similar to what they are now for the next 20 years. If they change, say, whenever an orange fascist gains political power, then the whole thing collapses.

26:

Forests are *much* more economically valuable than deserts. Which means the ownership thing will not be a problem for the dream-time crazy stunt.

I wouldn't be too sure. First, a lot of the real desert land is owned by Native Title owners. Not only does that mean you have to get a whole lot of people to agree on doing what you want, a lot of their identity is tied up in the way they traditionally do things, and fire management is a big part of that.

The land that isn't actual desert (which is most of it) is very low quality pasture, mostly. Land were you measure your capacity in acres per animal, not the other way around. Or even square km per animal, in some places. Forest would be more economically valuable in the long run, but there is a long lead up period, and the owners would need some sort of income during that period.

27:

Interesting things found while googling: There is an electrolytic process for producing lime from limestone with no co2 emissions (It produces graphite and oxygen as side products, obviously, as it cant just disappear the co2 content of the limestone) The researchers involved ran their lab setup off solar, though that is obviously just polishing their green credentials - any non-fossil power source would do.

Side effects : The age of the carbon composite? Because this is just a ridiculously sized stream of industrial grade graphite we are talking about here. Cement absorbs carbon dioxide over its post-manufacture life-cycle, so on net, this sequesters carbon.

White topping is the process of topping asphalt roads with concrete, which - as the name implies - makes them white and also drastically improves their durability. So...

Brute force solution: White-top the entire road net work using no-carbon concrete. Cuts maintenance costs way down, direct albedo forcing across a vast stretch of land already sacrificed, carbon drawn out of the atmosphere slowly as the surface is worn down, repeat.

28:

What do you think of this alternative motivation / ethos / tactic for promoting solar energy, loosely inspired by David Brin?

Primarily, don't mention climate change. At all. The millisecond those words are uttered, everyone falls into long-established tribal patterns of opposition / support.

Instead, go all free market and nationalist. Solar energy favours small business suppliers and hence consumer choice instead of giant multinationals. It lets households become self-sufficient instead of depending on the state. It creates new jobs and business opportunities. Solar means the USA and other western countries can tell the Saudis to go eat sand instead of sending them millions of dollars each year.

Lots of people on the right of politics know that something has to be done, but they don't want to be seen as "betraying" their fellows. Give them an excuse to gracefully change their mind.

29:

Problem is, solar done to a scale where it makes a difference will do.. uhm, none of that. Well, except letting you tell the saudis to pound sand. If you are deploying solar with intent to actually supply the grid instead of winning green morality points, what you end up doing in the US is paving over a good chunk of the Sonoran desert (Second best solar resource on the planet) and running HVDC lines north from there.

Very large scale, and reliant on a national supergrid.

But it wins because plopping down the production facilities in the place with 300+ sunshine days a year and minimal seasonal variation is just too much of a practical advantage.

So what we are talking about is either a megacorp or a public utility on model of the TVA. Small businesses cant do this kind of thing. Scale is too large, capital requirements are too high, and local solar cant compete, because the giant is harvesting a much higher-grade resource.

As for jobs... Solar is ultimately only going to be economically viable if it employs less people over its lifecycle and supply chain than the alternatives, and that seems pretty likely to happen. Nothing stops a large scale solar facility from having a very long service life and negligible maintenance - it is all solid state devices!

30:

Solar is already economically viable and like all power generation, it has economies of scale and works better the more is installed.

The resilient and socially beneficial solution is not households owning the panels on their roofs. It is deployment at a large scale by a publicly owned utility. Sadly, the US can't manage that, for purely political reasons.

31:

Simple question; what's the conversion efficiency of PV? That is, what proportion of the received insolation is converted into electricity? That proportion will not be re-radiated by the paneled area irrespective of the colour of the panel. It will also not heat the upper level(s) of the building that our urban PV plant is on.

32:

15 percent. You can get higher if you are willing to pay, but anything over twenty starts to be the kind of prohibitive only the satellite market cares to pay.

33:

Anything "punk" that requires going to county planning meetings probably needs a new name.

34:

15% for newish, clean panels - I don't know how the efficiency degrades with time, but will bet it does. And that's the incident light, not the isolation times the panel area - less of a problem in San Diego than the UK, but still an issue. But solar water heating shouldn't be discounted, even that far south - much cheaper, many fewer resource demands, much more recyclable, and much more efficient.

35:

But would that work? The story is that the Sahara is a desert because of deforestation and over-cropping in historic times, but it isn't really true. It would have happened anyway, because of climate change caused by moving into an interglacial. And, if I understand it, Australia wasn't really forested, anyway, but mostly savanna (like the Sahara).

Whatever. Even if it wouldn't be Eden, avoiding Diss would be an improvement. Moving slightly on from conditions that mandate prickly pears, agave etc., some acacias have edible pods and many of the African and Australian ones are pretty drought-resistant, and the same applies to baobabs. They thrive only in the (usually dry) watercourses in desert conditions, of course, but survive pretty well when the rains fail. I can't remember or never knew how many others there are. Doing a quick search for 'xerophytic food plants' found this, which Heteromeles probably knows about:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arid_Forest_Research_Institute

36:

I have been in San Diego only once, but have been condemned to visit Las Vegas several times -:-( So I will give a partial solution to one aspect (the traffic problem). It's too sprawling for buses but, with a diameter of c. 15 miles and fairly flat, is quite feasible by cycles (including velomobiles). Yes, pedalled ones, possibly with a bit of electric assistance. Almost all of the commuting and most of the shopping traffic could be done that way, and the advantages are legion, NOT just ecological. The health of the population would improve no end, for a start :-)

37:

At least require new-build houses to include solar panels (perhaps a combination of water heating and electricity). This would be cheaper than retrofitting the the solar panels after the houses have been built.

It is unlikely to increase the price of housing, as the price is determined by how much people are willing to pay. A more likely result is that the price of land would decrease slightly (or, more likely still, the price of land would stop rising for a while).

38:

Sure. The idea is to force water transport into the interior. The key trick is to make every step of water transport chain profitable land use. Thus the start point is mangroves and setups like https://seawatergreenhouse.com/australia-1 This is where fresh water enter the system. It is kept from going back to sea in floods by afforestating the lands the rain falls on - hydrological catchment engineering.

- The main failure possibility being market saturation. Australia is large, it is probably possible to flood the market for forestry products, but heck, even largely untended forest being used for "free-range pigs" would be a big step up from extensive range farming in terms of economic return.

The key thing here is.. climate change is real. Micro-climates shaped by human activity happen all the time. Doing it deliberately is entirely within our grasp, and if you make all the pieces that make up your terraforming project commercially viable projects then even things that look like entirely mad overreach will self-fund.

39:

Yes, but things like (ordinary) pigs are still a boreal solution, and won't thrive in a savanna. Warthogs and, even better, eland would - but, like all large savanna herbivores except a few like the giraffe, they are grazers. Giraffes are a possibility, of course.

40:

Oops. That's unclear. What I meant was that they WILL graze, not that they MUST graze - unlike a giraffe, which is a browser, pure and simple. It's therefore essential that the understory (mainly grasses) can stand grazing; the same applies to trees and browsing, of course - New Zealand has a big problem with this, as does the UK in areas where the deer have got out of hand. Upon rechecking, it's possible that other species of antelope would be better than the eland, but that's both adapted to living on very little water and can be (and is) domesticated.

I wonder if it would be possible to breed a meat animal that could live on prickly pears? I am sure that Australia would pay good money for one of them :-)

But, as you say, the first step is to get enough water transported into the interior to turn at least much of the desert into savanna.

41:

Hi Frank,

Thanks for the report. I'm not criticizing your work here but I do have a few questions

1. What percentage of overall homes in the county have solar roofs? What percentage of homes in rich neighborhoods have them? Middle-class neighborhoods? Poor neighborhoods?

2. When it comes to sidewalk trees, how prevalent are they in San Diego? This may seem like a silly question, but it would be helpful to know if this new fad is popular

3. As for the carbon credits/indulgences, what percentage do you think are scams? That's different than "the accounting is tricky and we're not completely sure the assumptions made hold up". This isn't an attack on you, but I have a huge problem with people who look at any project whose accounting is complicated and assuming it's a scam. Especially if those projects involve the developing world.

**Begin rant
While projects involving the developing world ARE in general more opaque than developed ones, I'm not sure they are more corrupt. In addition, you have very childish thinking when it comes to project efficiencies in these countries. No, not all developing country orphanages engage in baby trafficking where they steal kids from their parents and sell them to westerners for profit. Not all foreign aid gets diverted into a bureaucreat's Swiss Bank account.

In short, I think that San Diego buying carbon offsets outside the US IS a more effective use of the money. If for no other reason than the fact that it does encourage environmental conservation in areas where the government may be too weak, or the local voters would vote to destroy it otherwise. In addition, that represents an important economic input which may raise the standard of living in the area.
**End rant

42:

I actually agree that solar water heating is a better idea, but we seem to be outnumbered?

Also, cheers to Thomas and yourself for the speedy and factual answers to the base point.

43:

According to various reports, last year there was enough solar to power 76,000 homes in San Diego city, out of 1.2 million homes in the county (apples and oranges, I know). So somewhere in the neighborhood of 1%.

Sidewalk trees are a big issue, and the city has pledged to plant more as part of its climate action plan. My cynicism about them is that they don't tend to live very long, due to things like crappy soil, lack of care, pests, trees taken out because they buckle sidewalks with their roots (making a tripping hazard that the city would have to pay for), and the occasional car collision. The ecological niche of a sidewalk tree is pretty harsh, and long-term survival is tricky. There is also an environmental justice component, as the richer neighborhoods have lots of trees, while the poorer ones have few to none.

Carbon offset scams. That one I'm not going to answer, due to Charlie's blog being under UK law and the international business nature of some of this work. My interactions with the industry have been...problematic, and the one case I looked at in close detail had what I would call some very weird and hard-to-understand numbers. In a more general case where I DO NOT know the details of what's happening on the ground, a local group is taking in money to offset carbon from plane flights (yay!), and they're putting money into projects all over the world, including (according to the rep I talked to) "a forest in Africa."

That said, I do know a bit about the ecology of San Diego, its climate change forecasts, and the types of trees the carbon offset people want to plant here. Suffice it to say, these three don't really go together, unless a miracle happens and gigatonnes of carbon gets taken out of the air over the next decade using some other means (that means being...?). Forcing businesses to sequester all their carbon here would be messy, unless we find a cheap way to make vast amounts of carbon fiber and put it into buildings that will last a century, or something.

44:

Thanks for the prompt answer Frank

"enough solar to power 76,000 homes in San Diego city, out of 1.2 million homes in the county...So somewhere in the neighborhood of " 6%. Since half the population of San Diego County is in the city of San Diego (and assuming the ratio of households is similar), then you can say it's around 12%. It's probably close to the 15% for single-family homes in Australia Jez mentioned once you take into account that the city of San Diego is likely to have more 2-floor apartment complexes due to the housing bubbles. In other words, not bad. It would be interesting to read the penetration rate in the richer neighborhoods?

My opinion of sidewalk trees is that they're useful, just not as a method of offsetting carbon. They

a. Raise property values. In other words, they're a property developer scam masquerading as an environmental solution

b. The shade they provide does encourage people to use bicycles.

c. They may help offset the urban island effect somewhat. They may even help air move around, ensuring that car pollution doesn't stagnate. This last one is a Romanian wives-tale; I'm not sure if it's true.

45:

Watching from elsewhere in the Western Interconnect, it seems clear that Sacremento's plan for future electricity supply is to import quite a lot more from outside the state. It makes sense on a couple of levels: clean supply for California, and California is the obvious place to put a hub for trading bulk renewable power for the entire Interconnect. Wind power from the downslopes of the Rockies; hydro from the Northwest; solar in the various parts of the Southwest; pumped hydro storage in various places.

46:

Yes, unfortunately - even in the UK, where solar power is a silly idea, except for a few special purposes. However, solar panels on roofs to drive the air conditioning makes an immense amount of sense in the parts of the USA that depend on the latter. You have maximum sunlight just when you need most power!

47:

Actually I didn't know all this consciously, though there might be some memories about it I can't access at the time, but who nonetheless influence the solutions I come up. ;)

AKA I might have stolen the idea sub(or better pre-)consciously, since I'm not that sure Freud's subconscious exists...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preconscious

Thanks for the info, I was trying to come up with a solution to Frank's[1] problems with roofing appartments. Nice I either had a sensible idea or my memory is that good. ;)

[1] BTW, any ideas about your two masks, AKA personalities here, Frank? You and Heteromeles are quite similar, but IISC your profile only includes postings by Frank Landis, not Heteromeles.

48:

I'm going to cover a lot of ground, and a number of commenters.

1. Nukes. Um, yeah,
a) we *are* talking about California, home of the San Andreas Fault.
b) until we get Yucca Mt, where do you store the wastes - like some plants do, in steel barrels in artificial ponds? For-bloody-ever?
2. Solar: is getting a lot cheaper. And just as a datapoint, I was talking to my son, and he agrees that solar would give me payback on my roof... and I've a split level (yes, the STOOPIDEST plan for a hour ever designed, but I didn't know that when I bought it), and I'm just outside the DC Beltway in MD.
3. If there's enough water, street trees, *hell* yes. I'd suggest you visit anywhere on the East Coast, and I think you'd be boggled by the number of street trees in, say, NYC and Philly.
4. Desalination: I've never understood why solar evaporative plants weren't in operation decades ago. For that matter, you could make them more efficient with Fresnel lenses.

Finally, this being a blog of an SF author, after all... SPS, solar power satellites, cheaper than nuke plants, and no nuclear waste. Come on, given the price of a single nuclear plant, and compare it to putting up large SPS into geostationary orbit. A few Falcon Heavies, and/or the new SLS launches.

Before you go off on this, back around '82 or '83, we had a speaker at the monthly PSFS meeting, and he told us they'd already *done*, and had approved, an environmental impact statement. (No, we're not talking Death Beams From Space, we're talking perhaps a few tens of watts/m^2.)

49:

With regard to opuntia, there's a spineless variety that's also fairly cold-resistant. It's popular as an ornamental in the US along the Mexican border and can found in the wild farther north.

http://www.mswn.com/plants/database/plant/opuntia-cacanapa-ellisiana/
http://www.mswn.com/media/info_sheets/opuntia_ellisiana.pdf

50:

As a succulent lover and former collector[1], let me stress most cactii are quite cold resistent, actually a dry cold light season AFAIR is necessary for flowering in some, the problem is "cold and wet".

Which is where the "former" comes from, together with the fact they really don't like sub-zero frost.

[1] Actually, I'm thinking about putting together a new collection soon, though I'm somewhat divided between building a watering automat with a printer port and some pumps or use the watering as some kind of weekly Zen[1a], another thing cactii don't like is too little or too much water.

[2] No mantras, speaking an writing down things makes them real, but repeat them too often, and you get this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_satiation

Might be part of the idea of mantras and might be one of the things going on with repeated prayers, e.g. rosary, but I don't like the effect, and then, I might slip and go on one of my associative hayrides. And come to think about it, loosing affect is hardly what somebody praying should try to achieve...

51:

BTW, sorry for going on a tangent before comment 100, I just read an interesting article about semantic satiation, and one of the things up in the next few months might be visiting a dojo...

52:

Re: Solar energy capture ... graphene

Okay - I understand the beef about just how useful/useless solar is depending on one's geography and local climate. Also understand that most arguments pro & con tend to focus on linear incremental changes. But, reality isn't always linear including the development and adoption of new tech.

[Had just finished 'Graphene' so immediately clicked when this headline appeared:]


https://www.graphene-info.com/tags/graphene-production

Excerpt:

'U.S collaboration grows large single-crystal graphene that could advance graphene research and commercialization

A team led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, that also included scientists from University of Tennessee, Rice University and New Mexico State University, has developed a new method to produce large, monolayer single-crystal-like graphene films more than a foot long. The novel technique may open new opportunities for producing high-quality graphene of unlimited size and in a way that is suitable for roll-to-roll production.'


According to the book (Graphene) co-authored by an Oak Ridge-based NASA physicist, graphene has superb conductance, can capture/use a much wider bandwidth of light, is so thin (and transparent) that it can be applied to your window panes, etc. [Seriously, folks - suggest you read up on this stuff.] And if it can be 'grown' more economically and faster, could impact swathes of industries.

My feeling is that perhaps like cell phones which morphed rapidly and in a non-straight-line way into smartphones once a new-ish and at that time tangentially related functionality/capability (i.e., Internet access) was added on, this remarkable substance might also kick-start a similarly interesting non-linear evolution in energy production, transport and usage.

Yes - there are downsides (production cost) and knowledge gaps (esp. bio/medical), but for cultures that are in love with their tech and refuse to give up their creature comforts and conveniences, graphene could be that near-invisible (therefore esthetically pleasing) little nudge that changes people's minds about how they could help reduce overall energy usage.

Seriously - any way to improve safe energy efficiency would be a good thing. Avoiding public ideological confrontation might make this happen faster.

53:

Re: Solar panels & graphene

Danged! - meant to include this bit too - 1000x more power than conventional PVs:

https://www.graphene-info.com/graphene-solar-panels


On Nanotech Engineering's 92% efficiency graphene-CNTs solar panel claim

In early October 2017 we posted about Nanotech Engineering's novel graphene-enhanced solar panel, a post that raised many eyebrows. Nanotech says that their graphene panel reaches a 92% efficiency (compared to around 20% for large commercial silicon-based PV panels), and the cost per Watt of their panel will be 0.55 cents (compared to a US average of $3.26 for silicon PV panels).

Rice team studies thermal properties of graphene-CNTs junctions image

Graphene-CNT junctions (source: Rice University)

Our post quoted Nanotech's PR, stating that Jeffrey Grossman, Professor of Engineering at MIT verified the technology and said that “Pound for pound, the new solar cells produce up to 1,000 times more power than conventional photovoltaics”.

54:
Finally, this being a blog of an SF author, after all... SPS, solar power satellites, cheaper than nuke plants, and no nuclear waste. Come on, given the price of a single nuclear plant, and compare it to putting up large SPS into geostationary orbit. A few Falcon Heavies, and/or the new SLS launches. launches.

As nifty-cool as solar power satellites would be, sadly they really don't make any sense economically.

The basic problem with them is that after losses (largely in the microwave power beam), you can pretty much understand them as putting out the same amount of power as an equivalent panel on Earth, except 24/7.

For the sake of argument, let's just assume that wiping dust etc. off the earthly panels costs as much as all the complicated orbital kit involved. What we're left with, in the end, is basically this:

It's always going to be cheaper to put another panel and a battery of some kind on a hill somewhere than it is to buy a rocket launch. Even the bargain-basement Falcon Heavy costs a minimum of about $1500/kg to orbit (don't ask about SLS, you don't want to know), and even another order of magnitude cost reduction isn't going to make that affordable.

Just on rocket costs alone, $90 million buys you a lot of solar panels in a desert somewhere... and unfortunately the real costs of just the rocket will be much higher, because low earth orbit isn't where you want your power stations.

55:

We shall see how it pans out - 92% is startling. I am deeply suspicious of anyone who claims such extreme advantages from such irrelevant properties as weight - that's critical only in space.

56:

Brute force solution: White-top the entire road net work using no-carbon concrete

Problem with that: we're running out of sand, and mining for current concrete usage is already damaging many ecosystems.

57:

solar water heating shouldn't be discounted, even that far south - much cheaper, many fewer resource demands, much more recyclable, and much more efficient

When I taught in China virtually every house* had a solar water heater on the balcony or roof. Nothing fancy, used as a pre-heater for the on-demand water heater, but apparently worth installing none-the-less.


*A term that included detached houses, but usually meant an owned or rented apartment.

58:

Hm, we talked about desalination, and I mentioned spraying sea water for cooling. The streets might be a place to put some of the precipitate...

59:

Eh.. I am very, very sure the available reserves of aggregate fill for concrete exceed the available reserves of asphalt, so as long as we still want roads... And a properly designed concrete road lasts a very long time.

60:

I remember this coming up during my holidays in Italy, though there were some problems involved with getting the heater into the water supply already in place. Another thing might be legionella...

61:

As for the Mediterranean, would olive trees be an option for planting?

62:

The Olive tree in my back garden had quite a few (small) black olives this year ...
They will certainly fruit in a sheltered postion in the London region & places to the S & W of us

63:

Apart from fucking incompetent crooked Sheffield council who have, er, "hired contractors" to cut down vast swathes of street trees, for no valid reason that anyone can see, the turds.
It involves a £2 billion pfi-contract, what a suprise.

See also:
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/14/sheffield-council-votes-fell-trees-planted-memory-war-dead
&
https://savesheffieldtrees.org.uk/

64:

Re: Graphene

If an MIT nod isn't enough, consider reading up on graphene at the University of Manchester site - the academic home of the two Soviet-born 'graphene' 2010 Nobel laureates: Sir Andre Konstantin Geim and Konstantin Novoselov.

http://www.graphene.manchester.ac.uk/

BTW - South Korea (esp. Samsung) and China are miles ahead of the rest of the world in graphene R&D. Only IBM is spending any serious R&D money on this material in the US.

http://www.datacenterdynamics.com/content-tracks/servers-storage/ibm-invests-3bn-in-graphene-semiconductor-research/87785.fullarticle

65:

Getting the right sand for concrete isn't necessarily simple. Transportation is a big factor, but so is availability in the first place.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/sand-shortage-world-how-deal-solve-issue-raw-materials-supplies-glass-electronics-concrete-a8093721.html

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/357/6355/970

https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/how-a-worldwide-sand-shortage-could-devastate-the-design-world


You're proposing white-topping the entire road network. That's a lot of roads. Over 4 million km paved roads in the US alone. Roughly 10 m wide (assuming two lanes and shoulder, more for freeways, less for narrow country roads).

Assume 10 cm thickness, so 1 cubic metre of concrete per metre of road, so 4 billion cubic metres of concrete. Concrete is over 2 tonnes per cubic metre, so 8 billion tons. Current construction in the US is under 100 million tonnes; world production is about 4 billion tonnes.

That seems to me to be a significant amount of concrete, which means it will require a significant amount of the right kind of aggregate.

Maybe I've made a mistake in my sums, or in my assumptions?

66:

You missed the fact that one would obviously not to do the whole road grid in one go. 60 year lifespan for current best practice white-topping, and ten meters is too high for an average, which means its a doubling of current use rates, no more. That is.. significant, but not insurmountable.

67:

EC @ 34: "solar water heating shouldn't be discounted, even that far south"

I heartily agree - I had a duplex in El Paso, TX (the "Sun City") in the 1980s and installed solar hot water heating in the side in which my mom lived. We saw a reduction in natural gas use for hot water by over 50% in winter and 75% in summer. I'm flummoxed that it hasn't become a standard installation. It's inexpensive to install and very low maintenance. Even in areas where the sun doesn't shine that hot and that often, it can significantly cut costs and use of fossil fuels to heat water.

68:

The solar water heating systems I've seen are heat exchangers; the water in the panels doesn't go into the water supplied to the house, and ideally you should be using purified water in the heater to avoid mineral buildup due to heat and evaporation (no system is perfectly closed).

69:

@36 re: cycling in Las Vegas

Um, what time of year were you there? Las Vegas gets ridiculously hot six + months out of the year; cycling any distance, particularly for someone who's not already fit, is an open invitation to heat stroke.

70:

Yes, but I'm not sure how it would grow in Southern California, since e.g. it might be too dry. Though I guess it does:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive#Outside_the_Mediterranean

OTOH, harvest is somewhat labour intense, IIRC that's a limiting factor in Liguria, was funny getting a probable Lega sympathizer to think about workers from the Mahgreb...

https://modernfarmer.com/2015/04/california-olive-industry/

(On another note, a local shop from a gardening centre franchise has an ethnobotanical streak, likely to one worker. They had some wasabi last year, might get some plants when certain problems are dealt with.)

71:

Wasabi can be grown in the UK but it's somewhat temperamental - similar requirents to watercress, in fact - needs slowly moving, or changeable clean water.
Grows well in damp shady places, too.
Probably too hot in S-Cal ???

72:

Wasabi was something of a sidetrack; you mentioning your garden lead me to musing about taking up some plants again in general and gardening in particular.

so mentioning wasabi was somewhat unrelated to SoCal, but it was one of the plants I remember from last year; maybe they have some others this year, I'll look out for drought-resistants.

73:

Two-lane rural highway is 30-feet wide, so 9 metres. 10% overestimate, but then concrete is 2.2 to 2.4 tonnes per cubic metre, so about 8 billion tonnes still looks close to me. (Within 1 significant digit, which is all I was after.) Even if you assume that all of the paved roads are single-lane city streets with no parking or bike lanes you still get about 7 billion tonnes. (And given that we currently run utilities under city streets and dig them up when we need to make repairs/changes, using concrete for the average city street might require moving utilities to be worthwhile.)

Conventional white-topping uses over 20 cm of concrete; my 10 cm estimate is only half that. Thin white-topping recommendations are 10-15 cm, so if anything my estimate is low there.

California already only has 1/3 of the projected needs over the next 50 years (according to the California Geological Survey). Doubling the requirement is huge. Importing (aggregate is usually sourced locally) adds a big carbon footprint to the maths of the carbon-neutral concrete you were talking about.

Assuming concrete is about 1/5 cement, 1.6 billion tonnes of cement needed for the project. As making Portland cement releases about 930 kg per tonne when manufactured, using the carbon-free cement you mentioned would save about 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions, or 25 million tonnes a year (assuming 60 years to complete) over conventional concrete. Not certain how that compares to asphalt yet (not at my computer and having trouble reading PDFs on tiny screen) but mining/washing/sorting/transporting the aggregate is about half the carbon footprint of asphalt so it might be fair to assume this technique would result in halving the road reconstruction footprint? (Note from Colorado DOT that whitetopping isn't suitable for new roads — need sold asphalt to bond properly.)

Not arguing against white-topping, but I'm not convinced white-topping is a brute-force solution.

74:

Eeh, no thank you...

We do that in the UK, to keep roads clear of ice. It kills motorcyclists (it makes the surface slippery), it kills cars (corrosion; even with modern rustproofing, cars from places that don't do it rust much more slowly than the same models in the UK), it kills concrete (corrosion again, of rebars, plus recrystallisation damage) and it kills the environment (by "sowing the fields with salt"; this AFAIK is the main reason urea is now becoming a favoured alternative). And that's using much smaller quantities; the roads even still look black...

We also tried making roads out of concrete - I can't remember if this was because it was cheaper, or an idea for boosting the British concrete industry - and built various stretches of motorway with it to see how it turned out. Not very well, was the answer... the most obvious thing is it's fearfully noisy to drive on, with a constant loud rumble from the surface texture (needed for grip) plus going "doink... doink... doink..." as the tyres cross the joints between sections, which is really annoying. It's also more difficult to execute durable repairs on than tarmac, and doesn't lend itself so well to resurfacing (though on the other hand it needs it a lot less). So now the tendency is to replace those concrete sections with tarmac as they come due for overhaul.

Also, it's not very white. It gets dirty, and turns PC-coloured at best. Which leads me to another point: how much difference would it really make, even if it was clean? They tell us in school that white things reflect heat and black things absorb it, but what they don't tell us is that the appearance in the visual spectrum is a rather poor indicator of how reflective or absorptive something is at the IR wavelengths corresponding to everyday temperatures. The idea of painting something white or black to alter its properties in this regard loses its attraction when you find out how little difference it makes. Concrete and tarmac are further apart than white and black paint, but informally either seems to be about as good as the other in creating inhospitable airless ovens of the "alley you try and avoid walking down in hot weather because you invariably get cooked" variety.

So I'm thinking a better idea might be to develop some other form of composite, where the matrix is some kind of polymer resin (again, synthesised using solar heat/electricity and atmospheric CO2), so its base colour is white or transparent instead of black, and it can be tailored for IR reflectivity at the appropriate wavelengths.

75:

I think it's the plumbing aspect that puts people off. It's perceived as being much more disruptive to install the plumbing to interface it to the existing system (especially since large components may need to be replaced entirely) than to hook up some wires for solar electricity. There is probably also a tendency to blame electricity use on the more conspicuous items like lighting (especially with "turn off the lights" campaigns and the like) and not to realise that heating devices suck far more juice than anything else.

76:

IIRC solar PV + electric on-demand water heating is either near break-even or has passed break-even with solar-thermal water heating. Solar thermal is expensive and fragile due to the pumps and tankage coupled with most hot-water use being well removed from sunlight (morning and evening).

Also, the main reason that fission plants want to keep their waste around is that as soon as reprocessing is allowed, they have a goldmine. Burnup rates for present operational reactors is quite dismal (

77:

First you have to know what you are up against. The thing to remember is how cheap and useful fossil fuels are. Highly concentrated and easily transportable, they basically created modern civilization (see "Energy and Civilization - A History" by Vaclav Smil). In the Welsh coal mines and the oil fields of Pennsylvania we discovered a basically free cornucopia of energy. A gallon of gasoline contains about 12.3 kilowatt hours of power, which is equivalent to about 4 weeks of human muscle power. So why pull a plow behind a mule when a combine with an internal combustion engine can do it far more productively and cheaply?

Only an idiot would not prefer fossil fuels. Fossil fuels saved us from having to live the nasty, brutish and short lives of medieval peasants. Without fossil fuels life would suck badly. Don't believe me? Try actually living without them for a while. Try doing the back breaking labor required to return to nature. It ain't no renaissance festival.

So there is no conspiracy by the oil companies to keep us hooked on oil. It's a conspiracy of physics, with cost savings and profits basically serving as symbolic representations of energy flows. To discover oil is to get rich. Period.

Until recently we really did have a Hobson's choice between global warming and poverty. Fossil fuel companies are in denial about global warming, which is very real and getting worse. But those in favor of renewable energy were also in denial about the economic effects of going 100% to solar, wind and wave (all three of which you have in abundance in SD BTW). In real terms, renewable energy was more expensive than fossil fuels. Which means its complete adoption would leave everyone (not just oil oligarchs) poorer, even poverty stricken.

And nobody was going to choose poverty today even if disaster sometime in the future is a near certainty.

But something recently changed that alters this whole equation.

78:

Actually three things changed: Chinese over production, German installation techniques, and innovative American financing.

https://foresternetwork.com/distributed-energy-magazine/be-energy/be-solar-energy/why-solar-why-now/

Capitalism actually benefitted from poor economic planning on the part of the Chinese Communist Party’s central bureaucracy. Instead of China once again figuring out how to make something cheaper, the strategic economic planners in Beijing wanted to dominate the solar panel market through sheer size. Their government established subsidized loans, which in turn resulted in Chinese companies building a huge number of factories. All of these factories came online in 2009 and proceeded to glut the market with solar panels. As a result, the material costs of solar panels plummeted.

When a homeowner or business buys a roof top solar panel array from SolarCity, the customer pays nothing. The upfront capital costs are usually beyond the reach of a typical homeowner. Instead, a customer contracts with SolarCity for a monthly bill for up to 20 years, greatly reducing the cash flow requirements for the homeowner. A potential buyer can then rationally compare the monthly saving from the eclectic bill with the monthly payments for the solar array and decide if installing solar panels makes financial sense. How does SolarCity (or its competitors who use the same business model) afford this since they have to incur the large initial capital costs of manufacturing? They got Wall Street banks to invest in the solar panels in the same way they invest in bonds and stocks, only this investment has much lower risk. So, in effect, these banks own pieces of solar panels across the country and will receive steady cash flow from these investments for the next two decades.

Labor for installation could cost as much as the solar panels themselves. But installation has gotten cheap because installation has gotten faster and easier. The framework, struts, and supports for solar panels are now designed for easy, snap-together installation. Each panel fits into the adjacent panel like the pieces of a puzzle. The bulk of the costs of solar panel installation consist of soft costs, like the labor needed for installation, permitting, inspection, and interconnection; customer acquisition; financing costs; and installer/integrator profit margins.

79:

Worthy intentions, even something like recycling concrete as aggregate or as a fill material, has gone from something highly encouraged to almost impossible here in NJ
I won’t give you chapter and verse on this, because it is a saga, but I, at this point, except in a few circumstances, would advise clients to dispose of concrete in a landfill rather than try to re-use
Which is bloody depressing, of course

80:

Now here is something else to chew on - we are going to need every "carbon scam" and "indulgences for polluters" out there if we are going to save the planet. Why? Because we won't meet our emissions reductions goals, the world is not on track to do so. So we have to get rid of the carbon somehow, someway - by any means possible.

There is no one best way to fight global warming. We have to do "all of the above". In addition to emissions reductions, we'll need to do lots and lots of carbon capture. Including:

Forestation, aforestation, reforestation - plant a lot of trees even where trees did not exist before (like China's Green Wall stretching from Central Asia to Manchuria)

Mechanical direct air capture with large blower fans and chemical extraction of CO2 (Bill Gates wants to turn this into carbon neutral fuel).

Biomass energy carbon capture and sequestration, basically farm the carbon out of the air.

Biochar and soil enhancement (fun fact - the Amazon is mostly man made, it's a giant orchard based on biochar laid down over millennia)

Enhanced weathering of carbon sucking rocks (IMHO I don't see how this is is scalable but I'll try anything)

Ocean fertilization with iron sulfate (my personal favorite since it also replenishes ocean fish stocks)

Extracting CO2 to make carbon fiber to manufacture everything from 747s to tennis racquets.

Bio-fuels derived from algae, sewage, trash, and bacteria like TU-140 found in zebra feces.

https://foresternetwork.com/weekly/energy-storage-solutions-weekly/natures-own/

New ways of burning fossil fuels that don't let CO2 escape into the atmosphere. Like the Allam cycle for coal burning plants where the CO2 itself is the super hot working fluid that turns the turbines and is afterwards sequestered deep underground.

None of these are perfect, all have bad side effects.

And all will be necessary.

81:

Las Vegas gets ridiculously hot six + months out of the year; cycling any distance

According to the googles Las Vegas peaks at about 40 degrees for three months (that's max daily temperature) which means that it's not fun to ride home between 2 and 5 in the afternoon for most days in those months. Rather than go on about it, here's my answer on StackExchange

Sydney, Australia has a similar climate in many ways and I ride year-round. In the not at all sarcastic sense of "how do you know whether I've ridden to work? If I'm at work, I rode there". I don't own a car, I'm far too lazy to take public transport (it involves 5-7km of walking, or 90-120 minutes if I walk 800m-train-train-bus-walk 2km).

82:

I think it's the plumbing aspect that puts people off.

IMO it's the "punch holes in your roof, have people running round on your roof to install things up there that might fail". Having everything inside/on the ground where you can see it makes people happier. In Australia it all has to be done by a licensed plumber, and SHW is in the same price range as any other decent setup. Resistive electric units are cheaper, so landlords overwhelmingly prefer those.

What puts me off solar hot water is that the 3kW of PV I currently have uses all of the available roof area. My house is covered with 50 year old clay tiles, so there's lots of weird shapes and the tiles are so old that touching them often cracks them (installing the PV only broke one by some miracle).

Reshaping the roof to give more space turns a $20k reroof job into a $50k structural building project which would mean I'd be able to have 20kW of PV *and* enough solar hot water for just about any eventuality... but that would will lower the value of the house rather than increasing it ("ugly" gable roof rather than pretty black ceramic tiles). Sadly in Sydney I own a $1M property with a land value of more than $900k... the only thing I can really do to increase the property value is bulldoze the house (saving the buyer $20k) or replace it with a mcduplex (spending $500k would give me two $1M rentable units). The Sydney housing market is world-leading in the same sense that Trump is.

But more generally, if your roof will take it Sydney (and most of Australia) fall into the category "not having solar is costing you money". It's kind of a tribute to ordinary Australians that our hot summer days are not generating German-style headlines "Sydney grid collapses due to over-supply from solar rooftops".

83:

Go to Google Maps. Enter San Diego CA. Switch to "Satellite" view. Make sure that you are zoomed out -- using the plus and minus sign in the lower right corner -- to where the scale in the lower right corner shows 5 Miles.

Now look at how white the cites are in comparison to the undeveloped landscape.

You are going to spend billions to make those city areas a little bit whiter. Then spend billions more over the decades keeping them whiter, all to reduce some "heat island" effect.

Now click the minus sign in the lower right corner to zoom out, until you see the scale say 50 miles.

Can you see San Diego. And you are going to spend billions making that little area whiter than it is now. Look at the surrounding terrain, and how white it is.

And that is only one city, one little area. And you expect to make most cities a little bit whiter. And what exactly were you trying to achieve with all those billions that you want to spend.

I can think of a few things that I would rather spend those billions on, than trying to make one little area of the Earth a little bit whiter.

Don't get me wrong. I love the thread so far. It is going into my story folder.

Thanks...

84:

I wonder if it would be possible to breed a meat animal that could live on prickly pears? I am sure that Australia would pay good money for one of them :-)

Yeah, after all we paid good money to bring in rabbits and cane toads. Australians are fucking morons when it comes to stuff like that. I mean, "down here we are all suckers for stupid ideas". I moved from Aotearoa, home of the possum, wasp and deer problems to Australia, home of the rabbit, camel and fire ant... didn't he do well (are we still allowed to say that? It's so easy to lose track of who's been convicted these days)

Australia actually still has a whole lot of indigenous animals that would just love to see the forests come back, and a whole heap of trees that would be happy to provide the forests. The big problem is that what you see today is the fast-moving species that survived the flood and migrated to the former highlands, then made it through the plague of angry monkeys that followed. I suspect we're going to see further flooding and may even be talking about the Australian Archipelago in the foreseeable future. To which mangroves is one obvious solution.

Just to reiterate a comment above: the Australian Outback is not empty, and that includes the deserts. Changing the land use is going to involve negotiating with the existing rights-holders, and many of them consider the land valuable. The holders of non-rights will also want to be consulted in many cases. Australia has a lot of state-owned land that has both pastoral and mineral leases on it, but they have mostly "extinguished" or zero-valued native land rights. "Extinguished" the same way Germany dealt with Jewish property rights and Israel with Palestinian and Lebanese ones.

In terms of edible animals that can live in Australian dryland without destroying it while it's being reforested, we have a lot of species of kangaroo and wallaby as well as wombats. They tread lightly on the land where even camels are fucking monsters that destroy the soil and trash the waterholes. Foreign cloven-hoofed devils are right out of the question unless you're actively trying to make the land uninhabitable. We have a feral camel population that are terrifying, as well as cattle, sheep, goats and horses (mostly depending on how wet the area is, sheep need an almost English level of wetfulness as do horses, but camels will roam 50km out into a desert to get rid of a waterhole if they feel like it).

Your best bet would likely be a food-gathering program to round up all the introduced ferals and process them into saleable goods ("soylent green" and so on), then try to speed up the natural re-vegetation and repopulation by grazing marsupials. Using solar towers or whatever to shift large amounts of fresh water inland seem silly when you could get much the same effect just by starting on the west coast and replanting forests there, letting the prevailing winds shift the evapotranspirated humidity inland over time. Even the worst afflicted by "giant dam syndrome" never managed to make capturing the wet season and lifting it over the hill into the great artesian basin(s) look plausible.

85:

Desalination: I've never understood why solar evaporative plants weren't in operation decades ago. For that matter, you could make them more efficient with Fresnel lenses.

Solar Updraft Towers seem like a better solution to me. In hot areas you could deliberately overdrive them to produce "excess" hot wet air at the top which would likely cause precipitation downwind. If you wanted to reforest a desert they could possibly help a lot there. One advantage of those is that they're somewhat easier to make hurricane-resistant and the prep time for high winds is less than for a "go round with a truck and collect all the mirrors/PV" type packup of a neo-traditional system.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_updraft_tower

86:

If anyone wants to look there have been a ton of different ideas for dams and irrigation on dryland Australia over the years, especially the 'underpopulated north'... that's north of the famed "Brisbane Line" :)

https://www.google.com.au/search?q=northern+australia+giant+dam+proposal

They range from utterly barmy to superficially plausible, but even the few smaller ones that have been built haven't done especially well.

87:

RE: Spending: No, that is the neat bit. White topping is much lower maintenance, which means it saves money. (Assuming a low interest environment. But that is a fairly safe assumption). That is a theme, by the way - I try to restrict my ideas for changing the world to plans where economics help, rather than hinder - Sometimes, that involves convincing people to care about externalizations, but if you want a scheme to be adopted really widely, arranging for it to be a money maker or money saver is a really good starting point.

More to the point, the first bit - changing to electrolytic production of concrete seems like a very good idea regardless. So. Uhm. Can anyone think of a profitable use of in excess of a billion tonnes of graphite per year? That does not involve burning it.

88:

.. wait thats wrong. its a 4 billion tonnes of crete, not billions of cement. So back that down by an order of magnitude. But still, shifting cement production to electrolysis involves a very large new supply of graphite.

89:

"IMO it's the "punch holes in your roof, have people running round on your roof to install things up there that might fail". Having everything inside/on the ground where you can see it makes people happier."

Uh? The on the roof/on the ground distinction is orthogonal to the water heating/electricity production one.

90:

Oh, ok, here they usually put solar hot water systems on the roof. Putting them on the ground would work too, but you'd have more shading issues.

91:

Pigeon, I assume you're talking about putting the hot water tank on the ground vs on the roof being unrelated to whether you use PV+heat pump or solar thermal? I disagree, because a passive solar thermal system is often better than a pumped one, and that requires a roof-mounted tank unless you get lucky or design the house to allow it.

Building a HWS to be maintenance-free for 20+ years is hard, and AFAIK impossible if you're pumping clean hot water (I've seen/built maintenance-free water pumps but they don't work on non-ionic water - although with modern magnets you should be able to build a floating-impeller pump that would work). When I looked recently getting a warranty longer than 5 years on a water pump in a HWS wasn't possible.

Solar thermal hot water setups have been around for a lot longer than PV has been affordable, and Australia has a lot of experience/older companies doing it than we have PV. The payback is generally quicker than heat pump setups and has been for a long time.

What's changed recently is heat pump hot water systems becoming more readily available because those can make it more economical to use PV to heat your water. Although with cheaper PV even resistive heating is economic in some situations (I get $AU0.05/kWh for power fed to the grid, so using it to heat water is even cheaper than the 8c/kWh I pay for off peak grid electricity). But those options are not more resource efficient, or more space efficient, just more cost effective.

It's also easier to move electricity round, and with only one system on the roof you do have fewer holes in it. But you still have the efficiency gap between 80%+ thermal collectors and 20% PV times CoP 3 or 4 heat pumps balancing out sometimes and not other times (assuming you're buying the expensive versions of everything, at the cheap end there's still no contest - 15% PV x CoP 2 vs 60% thermal). If you have a stepped roof or can otherwise arrange have the collector below an inside tank it's even better, but even a (water)pump setup or a tank-on-roof one is nigh magical in Australia.

92:

Also, in Australia the combination of laws and company rules make it very hard to make on-grid household energy setups that work properly. For example, I can't easily have more than 5kW of PV in a grid-connected system nor can I have a system that uses PV to heat the HWS and falls back to off-peak electricity.

My ideal setup would be to redo the roof and fit about 10kW of PV plus a thermal hot water system, then have a battery so I'd very rarely need to draw from the grid. The list of problems with that setup is enormous and I guesstimate I'd spend two or three times as much on approvals as the actual design and install, plus I would almost certainly lose access to off-peak electricity pricing (at best I'd get time-of-day pricing but that almost never gets as low as off peak) and I'd likely have to pay for 3 phase power to be put in and then face 3x or 4x the daily connection charge as well as either being limited to feeding 5kW into the grid or having to pay another $50/mo to get a "demand based feed in tariff" that would let me feed in more more of the time.

Instead I'm investing in a couple of "community energy supply" setups, one wind and one PV. Same outlay, but I'm much more likely to make a profit out of it and there's a lot less hassle involved. There's also much more electricity generated per dollar of capital cost this way.

93:

Your premises are wrong.

The biggest impact is not achieved by forcing Solar on roofs or other minor fiddles with carbon sequestration.

The biggest impact is to reduce energy use. Which you do by stop being a vast fucking Californian urban sprawl that goes forever and becoming a more compact city with higher density of people.

So killing your insane urban zoning requirements and permitting more dense housing would have a far bigger impact than anything you list.

That you can write what you have and not mention SB827, or similar, shoes just how fucked the Californian environment is. Everything you report about that meeting is just so fucking pointless and unimportant when it’s the large-scale sprawl of low-density housing defended by NIMBYs that is the big environmental killer.

SolarPunk aesthetic won’t save the planet. Nor carbon sequestration. Boring zoning changes to permit more apartment buildings, and to require less car parks per dwelling, will.

94:

cities ditching problematic sewers

Can you expand on this in a few sentences? Not sure of what you mean. I can imagine multiple directions but am curious as to yours.

95:

wooden skyscrapers

We are. The cement industry wants to outlaw them. Down to anything taller than 1 or 2 stories.

A year ago we had this.
http://abc11.com/news/monstrous-fire-destroys-building-in-downtown-raleigh/1804792/

They never did figure out what happened but every since the cement industry has put on a full court press (sorry for the basketball reference) to get more buildings to require concrete and steel. Lots of FUD about the dangers of wooden framed buildings. (We're the state capital so this is directed as much to the state legislature as to eh public.) Nothing about that once the drywall goes up it is as safe as concrete and steel. And how the fire occurred at the one point in the life of the building where it was really vulnerable to a fire.

They did get started on building it up again and I just noticed it seems to be framed up to 4 stories or so when I drove by it yesterday.

I THINK the 13 story building next door will be rebuilt in time for the condo dwellers to return before the new one gets finished.

96:

How about wood pellets? The UK and Germany are using them to meet the Paris accords. Or so they claim.

And here in NC we're selling them to them. No greenhouse cost to shipping them fuel by boat across the Atlantic? Right?

http://southeastenergynews.com/2017/09/19/controversy-brews-over-new-north-carolina-wood-pellet-facility/

97:

I just over the last couple of years started paying attention to things like city council meetings. A zoning overlay for my neighborhood plus my daughter trying to buy a house in a gentrification area got me started. (Plus such things can be a real time sink when you are raising kids. Seriously. Mine are now grown.)

Some quick background. This is Raleigh NC. Our area made the cut to the final 20 metro areas for Amazon to build HQ2. (Look it up if you want all the details.) Depending on who is reading the tea leaves we are a likely in the top 3 or #20. Whatever.

This means 50,000 Amazon staff slots where ever they land over the next 10 years. I figure that means 5,000 staffers a year which to me means about 50,000 total people into the area per year. This is on top of the 50,000 or so per year that have been moving here for the last 2 decades. (Our sleepy little county already has the 10th largest school system in the US.)

Most all of the local governments have participated in wooing the big river. But my own run in with our little zoning overlay and involvement in our planning commission, city council, CAC, etc... tells me were are operating very much like like the San Diego this post is about. Everyone wants the growth, the jobs[1], how things are changing in terms of night life and such. (Well many are.) And the 2 big towns have plans for vertical housing that have been on the books for a decade or more. But when it comes to developers actually submitting plans for such the uproars start. A few 10 story apartment buildings surrounded by walkable shopping and working.

!!!!!!! NIMBY !!!!!!!! Put it somewhere else. Or build more 1500sf 2 story houses on 1/8 acre out, ugh, somewhere else. But not around here. And this is BEFORE HQ2 is a part of the equation.

And let's not even talk about mass transit. There's a 20 year history of grand plans with very little being done.

98:

Oops. Here's the footnote.
[1] Want a job in a nice area?
There are dozens of small tech firms with the hiring sign out. Dozens times 10. Got a pulse? Can you speak in understandable sentences? Know something about bio or computers or whatever. Show up. You'll get hired. But 99% of you will NOT be able to walk or take a bus to work.

99:

roaming pigs

Wild pigs have more than a few issues. Many places in the US would like to figure out how to eradicate them. Hunting is already allowed.

100:

Faster in the US, because current roofing practices in much of the country involves cheap roofs that do not last that long, but even there we are talking a decade at least to solar the roofs of a city.

Asphalt shingles on roofs are typically rated for a 20 year life. And most get it or more. I'm on 30+ years but it is time. So 2 decades to get most of the residential housing stock with this kind of roof.

101:

In Australia it all has to be done by a licensed plumber,
WAHT A SCAM ... just like our "licensed electrician" one, too ....

102:

NONE of the solar / PV / plumbing etc roblems are actually technical
They are all political & often corrupt.
Now what?

103:

While projects involving the developing world ARE in general more opaque than developed ones, I'm not sure they are more corrupt.

I may be mistaken but I suspect if this kind of thing takes off he was referring to the totally made up offset bonds and such. No foreign goverment corruption involved. Except for the local business willing to create bogus documents and such as needed by the US broker. And these are not exclusive to the undeveloped world.

104:

and I mentioned spraying sea water for cooling. The streets might be a place to put some of the precipitate...

A lot of places in the US are already starting to impact water quality due to the amount of brine sprayed on streets before snow storms.

105:

I left off explicitly stating my point. The local governments are all for growth and smart growth as the broad plan. But they almost always except the impacted neighborhoods when the citizens start yelling.

I can feel Frank's pain.

106:

Desalination in other than small-scale operations is an ecological disaster; the "waste" is highly-enriched brine which is pumped back out to sea well away from the intakes (to prevent it reducing the efficiency of the process) and the resulting increase in salinity there smashes the local marine environment into a toxic desert.

Climate change is going to mean more rain anyway as sea surface temperatures increase. This will result in increased rainfall inland so California's mudslide season will extend at the expense of the wildfire season. The snowpack in the Sierras will be thicker (more precipitation) but it will melt faster due to increased air temperatures so they may have to add a flash-flood season to the calendar.

I always liked the "Todos Santos" idea of towing icebergs from the Antarctic and parking them iin a very large dry dock to provide drinking water. I'm not sure of the energy budget though but with modern weather modelling capabilities it might be feasible today using wind and current assists en route. I have a picture in my head of several CVNs operating as tugboats in such an endeavour...

107:

I was having similar thoughts to Greg here, and also noting the irony in how the Aussies and USians who're neeping on about their political/legislative problems in this thread are the same people who usually complain about the UK "one size doesn't fit all" responses (with worked examples) to their pet hobby horses in this area.

Also, what problem are "white roads" supposed to solve? I'm not very bright, but I do know that re-radiated insolation tends from the visible to the infra-red spectrum irrespective of the visible colour of the surface it lands on.

108:

That is just wrong excepting complete incompetence on behalf of the designers of a desalination plant. Literature review of people who actually vent out and measured (IE; Not papers just based on computer models and theory) indicate normal salinity levels at twenty meters distance from outflow pipes. Salinity is of outflow is thus a complete non-issue unless you are daft enough to place said pipe in a zone with very low admixture. The chemical use of RO plants is of some mild concern, but solar stills and stunts like the seawater greenhouses are extremely low-impact.

109:

Albedo does in fact matter for retained heat, the atmosphere being a lot less transparent in IR. Tough mostly it just obviates the need for asphalt, reduces maintenance costs and in the very long term sequesters carbon - Concrete absorbs co2 as it breaks down, so if you produce it without producing carbon, it becomes strongly net-co2 negative. Tough that works for any structure which is not sticking around for the very long haul. (A dam with an expected lifespan in the tens of thousands of years, for example, will not be absorbing much carbon...)

110:

The biggest impact is to reduce energy use.

Very much that.

At a personal level my house is already way down the scale just from a bunch of small obvious things and not using the air conditioner (well, hardly at all).

I know a few people working in various bits of that industry, but a lot more people working against them. Sorry, "trying to increase economic growth", in fields as diverse as council amalgamation ("standardise building codes" invariably seems to mean lowest common denominator except when the building industry has a win) and electricity sector regulation (hmm, maybe very similar... again a negotiation between state governments and industries who want profit at all costs). On the other side, I know a guy working to reduce methane emissions from a local government composting plant.

Even my current job goes for features and gimmicks over power consumption nine times out of ten. They get all excited about making the battery in your keyfob/remote last for five years then then the mains powered part uses a linear regulator to save 8 cents (viz, it wastes a watt or so, that's ~9kWh/year to the buyer). At least they got rid of the resistive light bulb that used to be part of the battery charger so I suppose there are wins sometimes.

111:

The difference between theory and practice is less in theory than it is in practice! Many technologies are potentially wonderful, but the engineering turns out to be essentially infeasible, at least in the foreseeable future. Josephson junction computers, fusion power, 'beanstalks' to orbit and more.

112:

Summer. And, yes, I have done hard exercise under those conditions.

It's pretty easy to keep cool when cycling, though you may need a lot of water, because of the wind-cooling effect (see "Bicycling Science"). Velomobiles would be trickier, and there is a tradeoff between aerodynamic efficiency and cooling of the cyclist, but I am certain that it could be done - I could explain how, but this is not the place, unless the blog entry owner asks.

I accept that adaptation is needed, and that some people (probably mainly those adapted to cold climates, like UK residents) would not be able to do that, but that's one of the things electric assistance is for. The same applies to cycling below freezing point, though it would be infeasible in a Siberian winter!

113:

Your point is well taken, and I know a certain amount about those spectacularly incompetent introductions. I agree that kangaroos are better - my point about (say) eland was that they are a LOT better than cattle and sheep for arid terrain, or camels for that matter, and close enough to what the moneybags want to be acceptable to them.

114:

Set up solar turbines. What you do is set up a large area of greenhouse, with open sides and a huge chimney in the middle. Colour the ground black, with some sort of heat-absorbing system and pump sea water through this. This sea water will get hot, very hot.

Near the edges, spray the hot sea water into the air. Near the middle, run the cold incoming sea water through networks of pipes. Further in, harvest energy from a lot of wind turbines.

What you then get is:

Lots of fresh water from the evaporate-recondense cycle.

Energy from the turbines.

Saline brine which can be further evaporated for salt somewhere else.

A huge pipe chucking hot, moist air up into the atmosphere.


California is mostly a desert, but a lot of solar installations chucking megatonnes of water vapour into the atmosphere ought to make it less desert-like, and along with lots of fresh water, this ought to make carbon sequestration easier...

115:

Um. A lot of the claimed costings include a large amount of hidden subsidy - in the UK, almost all solar photovoltaic is farming subsidies, pure and simple. Solar water heating ISN'T fragile if it is properly engineered for the conditions, and doesn't have as many resource and disposal/recycling problems as photovoltaic. Also, the electricity that is used on demand is usually costed ignoring the environmental consequences.

It may be true in places where intense sunlight is the problem, not least because air conditioning uses more power than heating, but it stops being so where that is not the case. Exactly where? I don't know - that's a tricky question.

116:

That's partly true, but not entirely. Most parts of the world could fairly easily cut their fossil fuel use by a large factor, without impacting their quality of life. The changes would be radical, and would cost serious money and need incredible political will, but it could be done.

To take a simple example (see #92, #111 and even more #80), changing 90+% of personal transport from moving 1-2 tons per person burning fossil fuel to moving 1-200 Kg by muscle power and electricity would 'solve' just so many problems, overnight. And there is no TECHNICAL difficulty in doing it, today. Were I archdictator of the UK, with enough loyal and competent henchminions, I could arrange for it to be largely complete by 2030, possibly earlier. And a good 5 years of that would be undoing the past 25 years destruction of our governance and national engineering infrastructure.

117:

I did say "other than small-scale" desalination operations. Dumping a million tonnes of high-enrichment brine a day into the sea is a bit different to a solar-still operation producing a few dozen tonnes of potable water each day. In some places like the Gulf States which rely on thermal flash evaporation or reverse-osmosis desalination plants in the thousand-tonne per diem output category, offshore currents don't provide much admixing of the brine "exhaust". It's been going on so long in that region though that the effects on the marine environment are not noticeable over baseline since the historical data is pauperate. Ameliorating the effects by adding multiple longer pipeline feeds to extend and widen the field of dispersal points costs lot of money and requires more energy to pump the brine.

118:

There are possible alternatives, in some places. Dumping brine onto existing salt lakes, or places which could safely be turned into them, would increase the evaporated water in that area and not cause trouble in the sea. No, I haven't done the calculations, and it would need VERY thorough ones, because the potential for catastrophe would be considerable.

119:

The tests in question were taken from some of the largest plants in existence. The gulf states have a unique case in that some of their desalination plants are placed on a reverse esturary which already sees massive evaporation and only sees water exchange driven by a salinty gradient. - Its not just that the historic data are "pauperate", the arabian gulf is hyper-saline before any human action is taken.

120:

(Puts on plant physiology/ecology hat...)

Frank wrote: "The urban forestry crowd wanted more trees in the streets to sequester carbon. Street trees have about the same lifespan as a plastic lawn chair, and San Diego is known for, well, droughts and such, but more street trees would be good, no? Who can argue against that?"

My Chinese researcher colleague, who has pointed out in increasing detail that the largest afforestation program in world history (in China) just might not be such a great idea. Drought, and all that. But the basic idea is sound if you look past trees. Desert plants sequester surprising amounts of carbon, so if you can find appropriate xerophytes, you could perhaps work around the water problem.

And there are some old ways of harvesting water that have been largely forgotten; gravel mulches that cool overnight and create dew have been used around the world for millennia, but not in North America. Too low tech. Israel has done a lot of work on this, if memory serves. China has begun looking into it.

Frank: "What set us enviros off was the notion of carbon offsets (read "indulgences for polluters")..."

Love that phrasing. You must be a writer or something, right? *G* Yeah, I'm also skeptical about carbon offsets. Robbing Peter to pay Paul has never been particularly effective, and I don't see why it will work here either. I was skeptical of "cap and trade", but it seems to work much better than I'd expected. And it pleases fundamentalist capitalists too.

Frank: "most of the local enviros want the County to make sure that carbon offsets happen only in San Diego county for preference, or in California, where we can theoretically see if anything useful was done with the money"

That's a vast improvement over offsets located so far away that the sun will have become a red dwarf before the California carbon reaches those Borneo peat swamps to be sequestered.

Frank: "The carbon bank has to keep the greenhouse gases out of the air for at least a century."

Yes, but with an important nuance: that the ideal is to establish a long-term equilibrium carbon storage that is larger than the current amount. I think that's what you're saying, but wanted to make it more explicit. The problem is always that it's not so easy to establish an equilibrium that differs from the current equilibrium. Which is also what you're saying, only explicitly.

Frank: "Am I the only enviro around here who's had plant physiology and even published a paper modeling plant growth?"

Which leads us to what's been called the "curse of knowledge": It's very hard for experts to remember that non-experts lack their background and to account for that lack in their communication. It's never a question of dumbing down what you're saying, but rather about ensuring that your audience has sufficient background and context (provided by you) to understand your message. (I've done a lot of reading about risk communication, supplemented by a lot of technology transfer writing, so I can pretend to be an expert about this on the Internet. *G*)

Frank: "We could put solar panels on every roof [except for the cost]."

The solution is surprisingly easy: rent rooftops to the local electric utility. The homeowner pays nothing for installation, the utility gets free space for their power and feeds some of the profits to the homeowner in the form of reduced energy costs, and everyone's happy. Needless to say, the economics are a bit trickier than that simplified description, but not impossibly so. It's already being done in parts of the U.S. I think Consumer Reports discussed this several months ago.

In terms of desalination, it occurs to me to wonder why we don't just tap the water generation system that has powered the water cycle since the dawn of time: There's a near-100% vapor-pressure deficit between a body of water and the atmosphere of some place as warm as southern California, plus abundant solar energy to drive the evaporation. Haven't looked into the numbers, but it seems the problem would mostly relate to scale (it would take a huge body of water to supply a farm or a small city). But this kind of passive evaporation approach is already used unintentionally for on-farm reservoirs (usually large, shallow, open ponds that are ideal evaporative surfaces) and state reservoirs (Google bathtub rings Lake Powell for an example). Shouldn't be too hard to implement this phenom that's already happening at the scale of individual gardens or parks, thereby reducing the pressure on other water sources. Of course, salt water evaporates more slowly, and you'd have a crapload of salt to dispose of. No free lunch! But it seems like something that should be researched more.

Your description of the process reminds me strongly of the brilliant "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" BBC series, perhaps because I'm reading the scripts for the former, a treasure discovered at a recent garage sale.

121:

Thomas Jørgensen suggested: "Mangrove plantations for climate engineering and economic profit - a lot of the California coast line is recreationally important.. but not all of it."

It's a nice thought, but like all ecological engineering, you need to think through the consequences with excruciating care, supported by research to prove your thought process was correct. For example, you'll be eliminating other ecosystems to establish new mangrove ecosystems. If you haven't very carefully studied the impacts (e.g., on indigenous marine life), you might be in for a highly unpleasant surprise. Best you can hope for is that you'll end up with a new and different ecosystem that will be stable in the long term, but that doesn't remotely resemble the previous ecosystem.

122:

YUCK ....
Conservation? Wildlife? Preserved habitats?
What are they?

123:

One note: that whole "lease your solar panels" thing is getting a negative reputation in the local realty industry. Yes, it was popular, but the problem is that the solar company adds conditions to the deed on the house, which the buyer has to accept. It ends up complicating the purchase of the home, because the solar company has to be involved in the sale too, and so our realtor warned us against buying a home that had leased solar panels on it.

Currently, the simpler solution is that the local power company simply pays you annually if your electric meter runs backwards (meaning net energy flow out of your house). This is, of course, subject to the whim of the power company, but if I didn't have an electric car, my solar panels would pay for themselves in five years.

Finding a way to pay for that initial investment is the hard part. Yes, you can easily finance solar panels, but then you have to budget for those payments too. If your mortgage payment is half your annual income, adding the crude equivalent of another car payment to the budget can be hard.

There are actually multiple basic problems with solarizing San Diego, but affording solar panels is a big one. The other big issue is that a lot of building roofs are badly aligned and shaped to collect solar power. This is even true on homes that are being built now. To me, it's shocking that builders don't understand that solar works best when there's a lot of flat roof that faces south or west, but when I point that out, everyone from builders to planners and politicians looks at me in blank incomprehension. Curse of knowledge and all that, but most can't even generalize from a sundial to realize that randomly-oriented "ticky tacky houses that all look the same" are suboptimal for producing power. Worse, the current fashion in home building is to build very complex roofs with dormers and fancy angles. The result is that it's harder to find space on which to put panels (meaning the installation is more expensive. Proper solar design starts with the layout of the parcel map and making sure all the houses can intercept the sun.

This is actually a worldwide problem with architecture. Indigenous, energy efficient designs (thatched huts, for example) are being discarded wholesale in favor of artistically shaped western boxes that are inhabitable only because they have energy-sucking HVAC units built in. If you ever get to Oahu and play tourist, you can see a great example of this (changing the subject). Go tour Doris Duke's "Shangri La" a beachside mansion-turned-museum that was built in the style of a generic Middle Eastern Home. It's warm and humid inside even with heavy air conditioning, and they're constantly repairing it due to problems the moisture causes. Even though it's at the latitude of Dubai, being on the windward side of Oahu next to the ocean means that it's extremely humid, and the techniques that Middle Eastern architecture uses to cool homes either don't work or were ignored in building this rich woman's fantasy home.

Contrast that with the replica Polynesian thatched huts up the coast at the Polynesian Cultural Center. They're actually quite comfortable to be in at midday, even though they're just wood and thatch. Proper ventilation and insulation, even with primitive materials, make a huge difference. Sadly, rather more of the buildings in Hawai'i follow the Shangri La example than follow the indigenous one.

124:

All of which statements are true taken in isolation.

The do rather ignore your need to show that a low-key surface has a significantly higher albedo than a high-key on in the visible and IR portions of the insolation spectrum.

125:

On top of that, California is in a rather more favourable position as regards large-scale ocean currents, whereas the Gulf area is something of a backwater in that respect.

Also, there is no need for the outflow to be "hyper-saline"; obviously the salinity will be increased, but you have to evaporate a pretty large proportion of the incoming water to increase it a lot. You may be wanting to do that to reduce the pumping requirement if you insist on building the desalinator as a factory and aren't clever enough to get the density difference to drive the circulation. OTOH if you build it as a farm then you're not doing much more to increase concentration than natural evaporation does anyway.

126:

Ah, no, what I meant was that installing any kind of solar collector on the roof means having people crawling around up there and making holes in it, regardless of whether the collector's output is electrical or thermal. The weight, and so the need for mounting point holes, is much the same, and I'm being optimistic enough to assume that the installers will take the pipes/wires inside by going through under the eaves rather than punching holes for them in the roof itself.

Putting the hot water tank on the roof so natural convection can drive the circulation is something I'd never heard of. I can quite see that adding the structure to carry a ton or more of what I suppose must be some kind of little insulated hut with a water tank in it would put people off, but I'm also not used to thinking of pumped systems as being so unreliable that you'd even have the idea in the first place. In the UK, a pumped-circulation central heating and hot water system is the normal way of doing things (the heat comes from combustion, of course, but that doesn't make any difference) and they just go on for ever with nobody giving them a thought apart from occasionally bleeding the radiators.

The pump is driven by an induction motor, so there is no electrical connection to the moving parts, and there is a continuous barrier between the moving/wet parts on one side and the electrical parts on the other, with no holes in it of any kind since the only thing that goes through it is a magnetic field. The bearings are water-lubricated. They fail sufficiently infrequently that it's not something anyone ever thinks about, and there are (supposed to be) valves on either side of the pump so that if it does fail you can just shut off the valves, unscrew the old pump, and install its replacement, in a few minutes, without having to drain and refill the system. If it's the electrical part that has failed you don't even have to go that far, you just replace the stator assembly and leave the rest untouched.

Though from other parts of your posts I guess there is a significant chance that you have some barmy regulation that prevents you from doing what works here...

127:

That's why I didn't do a leased solar when I got panels for my house -- it put a lien on the house, and that complicates not only selling, but also any refinance, or equity line of credit.

128:

"Putting the hot water tank on the roof so natural convection can drive the circulation is something I'd never heard of."

I've seen it, in quite a few places, especially on flat roofs.

129:

changing 90+% of personal transport from moving 1-2 tons per person burning fossil fuel to moving 1-200 Kg by muscle power and electricity would 'solve' just so many problems, overnight.

How may people in a typical first world population can actually use their muscles this way? I have somewhat bad knees and bike riding more than a few days a week even on level ground put me into a "walking is painful" state. What does an adult do who needs to take the "kids" with them?

I like bike lanes. But they will not get ride of cars.

130:

This may be the origin of remarks I'd read, about how first gen (1920s-ish) solar water heaters regularly broke the roofs of the homes they were installed on. Putting a water tank on an unreinforced roof would be problematic.

In California, all homes since the 1980s (IIRC) are required to be strong enough to hold solar panels. This gets amusing, when developers claim that building homes that are "capable of holding solar panels" helps mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. AFAIK, existing codes require them to build the house that way...

131:

That's not what I've been hearing all these years - it's significantly more power, and no, the losses on a focused beam aren't that great.

And how much less light gets through the atmosphere?

132:

I, personally, have another major issue with concrete roads (other than the crooked contractors who use too much sand, so they can bid on repair contracts in a few years): have you ever driven up a grade on a concrete highway, as the sun was rising or setting? Esp. in rush hour?

It's blinding. Just like the *idiots* who just redid out sidewalks in my neighborhood, all concrete, no pea gravel, last fall, already getting filthy, and it's ugly. And blinding to walk on with the sun high.

133:

"No conspiracy by the oil companies"?

Sorry, wrong answer. Riddle me this: why can I NOT BUY a hybrid minivan in the US? They sell them in Europe. ZERO in the US.

And then there's the Koch bros, who are spending huge amounts of money to elect GOP candidates who cut everything they can that supports or encourages solar, wind, and anything "green".

Oh, right, SUV's: my Eldest was shocked a few years back, when she traded in her mid-size Camry sedan on a Subaru Outback, a subcompact... with AWD (she *does* drive over 9,000' passes in Oregon to work)... and was getting 10MPG *less* with the smaller car (with AWD).

Just because *some* of the reasons we use fossil fuels are reasonable does not mean that the billionaires and the oil companies aren't doing everything they can that might cut into their profits.

And if you still don't think that's the case, I suggest you see the final court cases in the US about what the cigarette companies did to keep profits up.

134:

Re. liens on houses after the local utility installs the solar panels

Yes, as I noted, the economics are more complex than my simplistic description of the solution. One way to avoid the problem with liens is to make the homeowner the owner of the panels, and have the utility heavily subsidize the installation cost. Since they benefit from the sales of electricity, they should be able to recover their investment through those sales. Or, as has been noted by others, buy electricity from the owners of the panels at a fair (for the owner) price so as to repay the owner's investment in panels. Or combine the two, as in the case of my mom-in-law in rural Massachusetts.

A smart utility company will find many ways to profit from such installations, thereby allowing a flexible approach that accounts for the needs of each owner. This is one of those cases where win-win solutions are possible if the goal is cooperation rather than competition between stakeholders.

135:

A smart utility company will find many ways to profit from such installations, thereby allowing a flexible approach that accounts for the needs of each owner. This is one of those cases where win-win solutions are possible if the goal is cooperation rather than competition between stakeholders.

Individually they're quite smart. Charming even. I've chatted up a few of their execs.

Collectively (or rather, implementing policy)? Um, yeah. Cf: the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant.

I don't get what makes their minds gyrate as they do, but then again, I'm not a politically astute person.

136:

Most. I have bad knees, too. I could explain why the current cycling dogmas are precisely wrong for most people, knee problems are commonly a consequence, and how most people with them could eliminate or reduce them to a mere nuisance, but let's skip that. And bugger bike lanes - they are a major part of the problem, and no kind of useful solution to anything. You have missed two critical points:

As I said, for the people who can't, there is electric assistance. What I am proposing CAN be done solely by electricity, with most of the benefits - and all of those I claimed in my post. You would STILL reduce the power requirements by a factor of ten, AND convert almost all of the commuting/shopping use to electricity, WITHOUT needing an massive investment in electricity generation and distribution.

And my proposal is one of the best ways to solve the problem of an increasing proportion of physically incapable people in the USA, and even UK. But that wouldn't happen overnight, nor would it resolve all existing (say) knee problems - but it would resolve a fair proportion.

Look, I am NOT describing what the self-proclaimed pro-cycling organisations are, whom I regard as somewhere between useful idiots, total imbeciles and quislings. I am describing something that is WAY beyond radical - a complete change to society's attitude to transportation.

137:

The state of the art in the 1980s was to have a solar collector on the roof and to run output into the cold water inlet on the water heater. Most 1960s and later construction in the US uses gas or electrically heated water tanks, normally 40-50 gallons (US) capacity, housed on the lowest floor of the dwelling, either the ground floor or basement. And yes, the pipes pierced the roof. US roofs are normally framed lumber covered with a plywood base, with asphalt shingles, clay tiles or metal roofing. There are multiple piercings for electricity supply, vents, antennae, etc.

138:

Extra Plus side of this, pump the water back out at your beaches and the Pacific might actually be warm enough to swim in....

139:

Does electrical assistance for bicycles do anything about driving horizontal sleet in your face?

I've been standing still outside a few times during the past couple of weeks for several hours at a stretch in horizontal driving sleet, snow and rain. It's not nice. I presume that riding an electrically assisted bicycle in such conditions would be similar or worse but maybe they have some kind of force field or shield that keeps the rider as comfortable and as dry as a car driver would be in similar circumstances. Or not.

My general opinion of the dedicated cyclist types is that they are folks who have a thing for pain but can't afford fifty bucks an hour to satisfy their urges in a nice warm S&M bordello.

140:

The problem with Brin's "solutions" is always the same: he assumes that anyone who disagrees with him is an imbecile who can be puppeted and will never see the prestidigitating hand attempting to use the symbolic manipulation on them.

Or that there will be memetic counterstrikes.

This is not quite so dumb as the people who assume at some point their opponents will slap themselves on the forehead and exclaim: "Yes, yes, I see it now! You are Good and Right and I am Bad and Wrong! So Bad! So Wrong! Now I will abandon my Bad, Wrong narrative and adopt your Good, Right narrative and perform penitence rituals!"

But it's still pretty dumb.

141:

Urban water shortages are all cultural, not technical. They're a product of the "Ick" factor.

The output from a good modern water-treatment plant is usually distinctly superior to the input you get from a river.

Solution: just stick the output pipe into the input pipe; then all you need in the way of fresh water is to make up for leakage and evaporation.

Note that the Israelis have gone from less than 10% of urban use being desalinated water (the output water from sewage treatment is put into their national irrigation carrier or injected into aquifers) to over 40% and rising fast from desalination in only 15 years, mainly by drastically increasing the efficiency of/cutting the cost of desalination.

In fact, the big desalination plants under construction in SoCal are using Israeli technology and Israeli companies, mostly.

The difference and the reason SoCal hasn't made this transition is the planning and approval process.

The Israelis just decided to do it, and did it. SoCal is sitting around with its thumb up its collective butt yakking and talking and having meetings... and yakking and talking and suing each other... and...

The result is that droughts set people in California squabbing and fighting, further slowing things down. In Israel nowadays, they barely notice them.

142:

Putting the hot water tank on the roof so natural convection can drive the circulation is something I'd never heard of. I can quite see that adding the structure to carry a ton or more

Uh, 500kg tops, often less. https://www.solahart.com.au/products/solar-water-heating/ is one of the better known local manufacturers. You can see their brand slowly fading to nothing on a lot of houses (seems to take about 20 years). By a lot I mean 5%-10%.

143:

Also, I'm aware of magnetically coupled pumps, but as I said either the people down here refuse to use them or they do use them and expect them to fail after 5-7 years. That includes the European imports, BTW. I haven't actually bought one because of my roof problems.

144:

Of course, salt water evaporates more slowly, and you'd have a crapload of salt to dispose of

Down here they manufacture salt using exactly that system. There's a "farm" in Blenheim (NZ) and a few in northern Australia. They do tend to get infested with algae but I have never looked into whether that's a problem or a resource. AFAIK there's no concern for what happens to the evaporated water. The point is that there's a market for the salt.

If you were a complete b'stard you could deliberately sell that salt to the north for use on roads, knowing that it will screw up their farms and rivers. Not that Australia does, but they could.

145:

There are modern microcars designed to be used in bike lanes, and a whole bucket-load of different variations on "small enclosed electric vehicle". They don't have to look like bicycle, and at one extreme you have the US "golf buggy" and "electric wheelchair" people who seem to exist primarily to make the idea look ridiculous.

Something like this is more useful (I'm choosing a US one just so people over there don't go 'no-one makes those here') https://www.zelectricvehicle.com/t-31-micro-enclosed-trike

146:

The output from a good modern water-treatment plant is usually distinctly superior to the input you get from a river.

In Australia they deliberately feed the output into a river then pull it out again a bit downstream. It's literal greenwashing, they seem to do it entirely so that they can claim people aren't drinking treated sewage.

The Conversation had an article on it the other day: https://theconversation.com/more-of-us-are-drinking-recycled-sewage-water-than-most-people-realise-92420

147:

Can o' worms time.

First off, I agree about drinking reclaimed water. There's a joke (per Garrison Keillor) that the Mississippi River water they drink in New Orleans has passed through at least seven sets of kidneys before it gets there. There was a general principle that rivers cleaned themselves, and they do, in the sense that, over miles of river, most human pathogens get taken out (quite possibly by viruses). If there aren't many people and there are many miles between water intakes (as in the 19th Century) just dumping sewage in a river and letting nature disinfect it works, erm, well enough (note the average life spans in the 50s? That's what well enough means). This stopped working over a century ago, but people on major rivers drink reclaimed water and don't notice the difference.

Anyway, to reclaim water, you've got to take the shit out of it, and that shit has to go somewhere. Into the ocean? That's the norm in California. Or, for many years, Kern County ran "Honey Acres," where they dumped sewage from LA, SLO, and other places, until the lawsuits started.

The real problem with sewage isn't the shit, it's everything else, from the chemical cleansers to the assholes dumping toxic metals. A bit of lead or cadmium from an illegal dumper can turn a load of otherwise useful human manure into fairly dangerous hazardous waste, and this is why using something like LA's sewage on San Joaquin fields (other than Honey Acres) has never taken off.

That's why the idea of having commercial outhouses directly linked to humanure manufacture isn't quite as stupid as it sounds. This makes it a bit harder for the illegal dumpers to get their toxins into the manure stream (at least if the collectors are paying attention, which is the hard part). Would you object to a commercially serviced composting toilet near an outside wall, where someone changed the "cartridge" once a week through an outside hatch? That could become the norm in the 21st Century.

Anyway, I'm not proud, but the "toilet to tap" slogan/slur originated in California (I think in Orange County) in the 1980s as a (Republican?) response to a proposal to reclaim sewage for drinking water. The solution in Orange County was to pump the reclaimed water into an aquifer (which would clean it a bit more) pump it out, process it again, and put it into the tap. Currently San Diego's going to do something similar by reclaiming water, sending it five miles or more uphill to a reservoir, pumping it out of the reservoir, treating it, and putting it into pipes. They are only taking some of the sewer water, so the rest of the slurry can still be treated and pumped into the ocean. Because we have nowhere to dump the sludge. The rest of the US thinks we're soft-headed. And we are.

148:

Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid? There were published road tests last year.

149:

Some quick background. This is Raleigh NC. Our area made the cut to the final 20 metro areas for Amazon to build HQ2. (Look it up if you want all the details.) Depending on who is reading the tea leaves we are a likely in the top 3 or #20. Whatever.

This means 50,000 Amazon staff slots where ever they land over the next 10 years. I figure that means 5,000 staffers a year which to me means about 50,000 total people into the area per year. This is on top of the 50,000 or so per year that have been moving here for the last 2 decades. (Our sleepy little county already has the 10th largest school system in the US.)

It's going to be just like RTP. The original idea was that bringing in high tech companies (back when "high tech" meant Chemstrand and IBM) would mean high paying jobs for the local populace, based on the big three "research" Universities (Duke, Carolina & NC State) and the ancillary institutions NCCU, Durham Tech & Wake Tech providing an educated work force.

Instead most of the good jobs went to carpetbaggers ... or to H1B visa holders.

It was a boom for developers though. For the locals not so much.

Wally-world is hiring.

150:

A lot of places in the US are already starting to impact water quality due to the amount of brine sprayed on streets before snow storms.

The brine solution they're using for the roads in Raleigh/Wake County/North Carolina/etc puts less salt into the environment than when they used to spread rock salt. That's part of the reason they went to that system. It's more effective at the same time it uses less salt.

151:

:) In australia we have the Murray-Darling basin which runs from Queensland to South Australia, and Adelaide at the bottom of that is notorious for the distinctive taste of their drinking water. The prestige suburbs there are on the hills where they get more reliable rain and a lot of houses drink captured rainwater.

On the humanure front Australia is actually pretty reasonable. There are several manufacturers of council-approved composting toilets and they are fairly affordable. I have one, it works as well as I expected (having run a variety of DIY systems in the past, so I expected a pretty-looking equivalent with expensive consumables). I have my system working and a set of fruit trees that are now big enough to appreciate the compost that results. It helps that the soil where we are is not suitable for root vegetables so I can bury the compost pretty much anywhere the soil is deep enough to allow it. The official requirement is 500mm below the surface, which takes it out of the active zone for most Australian soils... Greg will appreciate the irony if no-one else does.

The most amusing part for me is that just like DIY ones the commercial one relies on black plastic bins sitting in the sun to heat the compost and cook pathogens out of it, but unlike the DIY ones there's no proper moisture control. They have vents and drains, but no way to get moisture in to replace what comes out. So IME I get either dry non-compost or anaerobic sludge about half the time.

The big thing that gets the commercial one a certificate is a small fan (90mm computer case fan) and a proper seal around the toilet seat so that the smell gets sucked out and up the vent system.

From a societal point of view, the advantage of composting toilets is that they don't have to deal with a mixed waste stream, and especially not with illegal dumping. The latter continues to be a huge problem in Australia, possibly even bigger than legal-by-corruption dumping.

152:

I dare you to try that biking to work think in a Chicago winter . Or an Indian monsoon

153:

I ride in Sydney thunderstorms (occasionally featuring hailstones the size of baseballs!), I've ridden in a monsoon in northern Australia, I've ridden in snowstorms in New Zealand, I don't see the problem. People ride to work year-round in Toronto and Fairbanks. People keep taking bicycles to Antarctica (and it gets cold there). They're not doing it for some stupid dare, they're doing it for transport.

What stops me riding to work in Chicago or India isn't the weather, it's the climate. Flying internationally is very likely something we can't afford to do this century. But as one former friend put it "I took a helicopter flight to see the remnants of the glacier while it's still there". Yes, she really is that stupid (her PhD in state of the environment reporting perhaps demonstrating the pointlessness of such things).

I think we should really push carbon taxes down to individual levels. Give people ration cards, let them spend their allowance on whatever they want. When they run out, they run out. If they "forget" to leave enough for food and breathing for some of the year that's their problem. I hear Oklahoma is discussing that strategy right now (albeit for other reasons).

154:

I've biked to work in Minneapolis in the winter. It's not fun some days, but usually doable.

155:

Given the amount of horse-produce I dump onto my allotment ... yes, I did appreciate that - thanks!
💩

156:

I ride in Sydney thunderstorms (occasionally featuring hailstones the size of baseballs!), I've ridden in a monsoon in northern Australia, I've ridden in snowstorms in New Zealand, I don't see the problem. People ride to work year-round in Toronto and Fairbanks. People keep taking bicycles to Antarctica (and it gets cold there). They're not doing it for some stupid dare, they're doing it for transport.

Well, good for you. People have different limits on what they consider acceptable biking weather - or even acceptable weather for waiting for a bus. Building the infrastructure on the basis that somebody can bike there in every weather that comes around is not very useful for the population as a whole.

I like to think I'm relatively lax with the weather - but that applies only when walking. For example, I don't like biking when the temperature is below 10 degrees celcius, and I just don't do it when there's ice on the streets. That's a relatively common occurrence here during the winter months. Some people bike throughout the year, but for the last two weeks I have seen few bikers around.

Also there are other, perhaps temporary, issues. I broke my arm last year, and it didn't heal easily. This made me practically one-armed for the time. For most of 2017, I couldn't really ride anything that would require me to use my hands to steer - no bikes, no cars, nothing except perhaps a wheelchair with one-handed controls. I suspect that I could've driven a car with an automatic transmission, but it would have been difficult and I really can't see any situation where that would have been necessary.

So, even with electrical assistance bikes (or comparable four-wheelers or whatnot) I don't think it's a solution that would let people move as well as they do now. Any such solution, in my view, would force more people to just stay home and not go anywhere.

Still, I would like that biking (and related modes of transportation) and walking would be easier than nowadays. It's just that the weather conditions might be even worse than what you have encountered. Try -20 C and windy, so that the wind chill effect makes it nearer to -30 C - and this is just Southern Finland. It's colder in the North. Add to this the thirty or fourty centimeters of snow, and biking is not going to be that easy. Especially if you start to think that somehow you should plow that snow - and that's not going to be very fast without some kind of cars.

157:

I ride in Sydney thunderstorms (occasionally featuring hailstones the size of baseballs!), I've ridden in a monsoon in northern Australia, I've ridden in snowstorms in New Zealand, I don't see the problem.

Pardon me while I quote myself:

My general opinion of the dedicated cyclist types is that they are folks who have a thing for pain but can't afford fifty bucks an hour to satisfy their urges in a nice warm S&M bordello.

158:

I don't know whether to call them addicts or fanatics, but that aspect is definitely showing through, and there are even signs of actual bigotry! To mention a few points for anyone with an open mind still looking:

The micro-car you described is interesting but is NOT what I was describing - it is merely an electric version of vehicles that were fairly common in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, and is only a factor of two lighter than my car. I am talking about a radical change.

In severe weather, it's extremely dangerous and sometimes impossible to drive ordinary cars safely; I could add 60 MPH winds to the hazards, too. Monsoons and very heavy rain, strong winds, many forms of snow, and more, all prevent most ordinary cars from being used. Yes, lighter vehicles are more vulnerable, and it would mean that more days were "don't travel" ones, but it's not a big deal. You just allow for it, as many countries have to at present.

Yes, most USA and UK inhabitants (and Australian?) nowadays are total wimps, but an implied point of the original post (yes, Frank Landis's) is that we simply HAVE TO start living WITHIN our environment, not insulating ourselves from it. The nonsense about sleet and masochism (or even the cold and rain) is just that (and pure polemic). As I said, I was describing a properly-engineered velomobile, which would protect the rider from all that.

Rain, sleet and hail? -10 Celsius (or even -15, for the hardier people)? Not a problem, it is enclosed and has a windshield. And, in the latter case, exercise keeps you warm!

40+ Celsius and not too wet? Not a problem, it is bright white, and has (optional) large vents and the front and rear, to provide a (say, 20 MPH) airflow over the person. And there's no difficulty about carrying ample water.

35 Celsius and 95% humidity? Use electric assistance. It's unpleasant, but the airflow makes it a LOT more comfortable, and MUCH less likely to cause heat stress, than even standing around.

159:

Building the infrastructure on the basis that somebody can bike there in every weather that comes around is not very useful for the population as a whole.

I wrote a longer reply but moveable type decided I'd taken too long and logged me out, discarding my reply. So sorry, here's the terse version:

The idea that if it doesn't work for everyone we can't allow it for anyone is generally foolish and in this specific case proven to be wrong as well. The more people cycle the more everyone else benefits.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2014/oct/16/why-cyling-is-great-for-everyone-not-just-cyclists

160:

Baby steps, Dr Cynic, baby steps. I've owned and commuted in a velomobile and they work ok even with badly designed cycle facilities. But even with well designed ones current velomobiles don't work very well. We do need to move towards some kind of microcar with better safety, power assist and better comfort.

Whether we call them "Musk Pods" or "Hipster Prams" or whatever, the gap between walking 200-500m to public transport and being so far out of town that you don't commute at all is going to need a more budget-friendly solution. The thing Toyota is advertising in New Scientist, that z-ev thing, the similar thing Red Dwarf man was demo-ing on his electric car youtube channel, they're all converging on "heavy e-assist velomobile" and they're all starting to look the same. I have a feeling that's what we're going to get. Probably initially by couples divorcing and cutting their Smart cars in half :)

161:

Some days I wish I'd done a PhD just so I could whack that on the end of my letters to various bodies who ask for public submissions (and also some who don't). But then I see people with those letters writing profoundly stupid stuff and realise it wouldn't have helped.

The latest outrage is my local council saying "thank you for you input, citizen. No change resulted". Again. Then they put out a newsletter saying 'all submissions received individual responses" which was technically true but practically nonsense.

But in good news, after 10 years of people asking they finally put a drinking fountain in the local park.

162:

Yes. Some of those claims are fallacious, but its thrust is correct. However, one point needs stressing.

In most places, ESSENTIALLY NO changes to the infrastructure are either needed or desirable! Bike lanes and pavement (sidewalk) cycle paths are (safety) disasters, as well as severely limiting the safe speed (hence distance), discouraging walking, and being totally inadequate to handle even 20% of commuting/shopping trips, let alone the majority. And that last point is they key factor. I remember when, in many places in the UK, over half of such trips were still on a bicycle.

The ONLY way to resolve the transport issues in places where mass transport is not feasible is to use the ROAD for cycles or similar. And the ONLY way to do that is social, political and (in very minor ways) legal engineering. Yes, I know that treating this as an engineering problem is a totally heretical attitude in the transport area, but it's what the original post was doing :-(

163:

People ride to work year-round in Toronto and Fairbanks.

One of my VPs rides to work (or takes the bus — he doesn't have a car). After the first snowfall I joked about snow tires for the bike and he said he hadn't ridden as it was too unsafe in ice and snow. Which is exactly what I did when I was riding to work, for the same reason.

Some people may ride to work in the winter, but not many of them. I haven't seen a cyclist in Toronto all winter, except one during a thaw when no snow was left on the ground.

164:

After the first snowfall I joked about snow tires for the bike and he said he hadn't ridden as it was too unsafe in ice and snow.

The people who ride bikes here during the winter usually opt for studded winter tyres. Fat bikes seem to be popular, too - the bigger tyres make the grip better, especially with lower air pressures.

165:

When they plow streets here the snow ends up by the curb, which combined with ice in the gutter means that the usual place for cycling is either blocked or very slippery. Combined with slots of salt spray in the air, rush-hour traffic and darkness I understand not riding. Cycle lanes (such as they are) end up as places for snowplows to put the snow, and sidewalks tend to get icy (and are blocked by mounds of snow from driveways and crossroads — which shouldn't happen but regularly does*).

Maybe Moz doesn't mind getting soaked in ice-cold salt water, but when you don't have a place at work to dry off and change it's a real disincentive to cycling. Not to mention what the salt does to your bike :-(


*When I broke my arm and spent several months not being able to drive I couldn't walk anywhere after a big snowstorm, as the sidewalks were all blocked by snowplows clearing roads and private parking lots/driveways.

166:

Just in general, the solution to infrastructure that no longer meets the purpose of the people has been pioneered by places like Jerusalem, Crete, Rome, a bunch of Chinese cities, Detroit, Cleveland...

What I'm sarcastically referring to is abandonment as people move elsewhere. The world's full of abandoned settlements. Even places like Jerusalem and Rome have seen their populations fluctuate by at least two orders of magnitude over their long histories, and you can see what's happening to Damascus (the longevity champion) now.

Looking at San Diego, which literally lives on borrowed water, I'm pretty sure that, absent a true miracle, many of its subdivisions, probably including the one I live in, will have to be abandoned if electric vehicles don't become a nearly perfect substitute for gasoline vehicles. Our infrastructure, with long distances that require freeway driving, is going to be effectively impossible to convert over to something that can run on human foot traffic or bikes. As an example, we have to walk a couple of miles to get to the nearest grocery or food, and while we sometimes do that for exercise, if we had to walk for food, that would take up about three hours every few days, and we'd be limited to what we could carry in our packs. With a car, it's a trivial errand.

Again, I want to stress that abandonment is historically normal if horribly unpleasant. IIRC, the archaeologists estimate that Crete housed more people during the bronze age than it does now, and Peru may only now be catching up with its Incan population. Jerusalem came pretty close to being depopulated during a major drought in the Middle Ages, and Angkor Wat was mostly depopulated after a flood screwed up their canal system. And so it goes.

This view used to be shocking to just about every American, as we think of ourselves (as did the British) as the exception to every trope about the history of imperial powers. Now, people are starting to understand that we're not that different, thanks to the current political situation. Even though we mostly don't have a deep history in this country, we're at the start of someone else's deep history, and we're going to leave behind a lot of ruins at some point. We just don't know when.

What I'm doing as an environmentalist is a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand, I am pushing for as sustainable a San Diego as I can get. After all, I could be wrong, and technology may make it possible for the city and county to become sustainable, and for this city to persist indefinitely. If I'm right, I'm trying to keep this inflation phase of the city from wiping everything else out, especially the species that were here before, but also stuff that migrants may need to survive. Eating our futures to feed our presents is, at best, a temporary solution.

167:

Yes, but you are overstating your case. "As an example, we have to walk a couple of miles to get to the nearest grocery or food, and while we sometimes do that for exercise, if we had to walk for food, that would take up about three hours every few days, and we'd be limited to what we could carry in our packs. With a car, it's a trivial errand."

Er, most healthy adults can walk 2 miles in half an hour, and few can't do it in 40 minutes. Let's consider a medium shopping trip, of the sort that was the norm before huge supermarkets at vast distances took over. Say, 30 minutes shopping at 2 miles distance, averaging 20 MPH by car (plus 3 minutes overhead each way), 10 MPH by bicycle (plus 2 minutes overhead), and 3 MPH walking.

Driving: 12+6+30 = 48
Cycling: 24+4+30 = 58
Walking: 80+30 = 118

Yes, walking is a lot slower, but there's not all that much difference between driving and cycling. I can assure you that has been confirmed many times by a lot of people, and cycling is often faster where the roads are badly congested.

Yes, I agree driving is a lot faster if you concentrate the shops in hundred acre malls tens of miles apart, but surely it's within your model to reverse that lunatic trend?

While I fully agree with your point, it's NOT as difficult as all that to make minor modifications to existing infrastructure (as in the previous paragraph), in far more locations than is commonly believed. But, as I said, it needs drastic social and political changes, and some minor legal ones. And, in some cases, the situation is hopeless - possibly including Las Vegas and San Diego - but NOT for this reason.

168:

Re: Graphene ... ' the engineering turns out to be essentially infeasible.'

Hence the importance of R&D. Very little downside to R&D - you learn something even if your particular experiment bombs. Biggest issue IMO is that current graphene R&D is now in the private sector which means a huge slow down in the dissemination of info. All it takes is for one idiot CEO/CFO at a megacorps to decide that pay-off isn't fast enough and an entire generation of research gets wiped out. Then because of now-universal non-compete clauses in employment contracts, researchers let go from such firms are legally prohibited from continuing their research elsewhere.

What we need is a Gates-Jobs combo in the 'new materials' biz sector: a 'Gates' for the techies and small/medium biz owners, a 'Jobs' for status/esthetic-conscious consumers. And as per the Gates-Jobs new product launch formula, this means any new materials offered would be bundled with freebies/toys that would make the acquisition of this new material more economical from the buyer's perspective. EMusk alone, even though he seems to combine both traits/approaches, is not enough.

169:

Re: Desalination, salt water street spraying & ice caps melting

Let's start with the polar ice caps melting. My non-tech understanding is that this ice is probably the purest (least saline) water on the planet. If so, then because this water flows directly into our oceans, this means that such melting has likely reduced the overall salinity of the oceans. (Any experts here - please feel free to correct and/or support this hypothesis.)

Desalination - if the above is true - then desalinating ocean water for use along urbanized coastlines is probably not a bad way of resalinating the oceans, that is, bringing the oceans back to their previous salinity levels. (Anyone know what various sea creatures' optimal environmental salinity levels are? As I recall, one of the reasons cephalopods appear to be thriving is because of the increase in overall/total ocean salinity.)

Salt water street spraying - my understanding is that this results in much less salt use, therefore less overall salination of nearby waters. (Highest risk are fresh water streams, lakes.)

170:

In both cases, the effect on the OVERALL salinity is negligible, though that might not be so if the Antarctic cap melted in toto. The problem is local effects - many people are concerned that the Arctic and Greenland melting may disturb the north Atlantic thermohaline circulation, with potentially catastrophic consequences for Europe.

171:

Re: Abandoned properties

HuffPost did an article on this and found that most were 'investment properties'. So maybe add this to your local zoning by-laws: second (i.e., investment) properties will be taxed at higher levels in order to balance the risk/cost to the community for abandonment.

Insurance riders are very common in real estate. So, get some major insurance companies to figure out the actual risks and then make it part of every real estate transaction. Then, like municipal/county property taxes, toss in an 'abandoned-property insurance premium'. As this could slow down house resale prices, expect push-back from realtors.

172:

Re: ' ... north Atlantic thermohaline circulation'

This sounds as though the highest risk is weather. Has anyone looked at the microbial/biologic risk due to such changes?

173:

The answer, in general, is to stop worrying about ocean salinity, because there is no such thing.

To be precise, the bulk salinity of the ocean is irrelevant: some bodies of water are saltier, some are fresher. What's critical is that salt water is denser than fresh water, while cold water is denser than warmer water, and cold water can hold relatively more oxygen than can warm water. What's been happening as ice freezes in the polar oceans is that the remaining very cold surface brine has been sinking into the depths, thereby carrying well-oxygenated, very cold, surface water into the depths, thus supporting all those cool critters that Sir David Attenborough loves to show us.

Now, let's warm up the Arctic so that ice production stops. There's less well-oxygenated waters sinking into the abyss. Combine that with the steady infall of decomposing organic material (aka marine snow) and the oxygen in the water gets used up in decomposing it, thus rendering the deep waters anoxic. Without the major flows of water off the poles, the deep currents slow in places, thereby allowing deep water anoxia to spread.

This has already happened in the Black Sea, and it will become more common throughout after the oceans as climate change progresses. Since it takes centuries for water to circulate throughout the abyss, it will take probably 1000 years for chunks of the deep ocean to become anoxic.

At that point, these "dead zones" will become production areas for shale, which only forms under anoxic water. In the fullness of the next 60-100 million years, some of that shale will be squeezed into oil and collect into new oil deposits. That's where a bunch of the carbon we spew now will eventually end up.

As for desalination plants, scale-wise they're trivial compared with the water evaporating off the ocean's surface every day and feeding the clouds. It's pure arrogance to think that they'll have anything other than a very local effect on ocean chemistry.

I think that also starts to answer the question of how heating and acidification of the oceans affects the biosphere.

The bigger point that people love to forget is that the ocean bottom has a lot more varied topography than the rest of the surface of the Earth. It's not just a flat mud plain. Even if parts of the abyss become anoxic, things like the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and other large underwater massifs may well retain eukaryotic life above the anoxic waters.

174:

Peter Ward's Under a Green Sky probably isn't a bad place to start, if you want an overview of the long-term consequences.

175:

there is the fact that solar rooftops are kind of terrible for the micro-climate. Solar tiles are black, so doing this makes urban heat islands worse.

Two tech solutions, one low-tech and one high-tech:

1. Run water hoses through the (black) tiles and use them to warm up a hot water tank. Solar thermal water heating has been standard in a lot of hot places for decades now ...

2. Next-gen PV cells that can convert near-infrared photons into electricity, not just UV/blue light. I'm not sure how practical this is, but if you can crack it you just added a bunch of percentage points to your PV cells' efficiency and probably fixed the heat island problem.

176:

I've been thinking about that a lot. Does anyone else remember "Bed Sheets Are White" by Evelyn Lief in one of the Dangerous Visions books? I think she caught a glimpse of the future there, but not enough to know why the "white laws" were passed.

177:

At least require new-build houses to include solar panels (perhaps a combination of water heating and electricity). This would be cheaper than retrofitting the the solar panels after the houses have been built.

What are these "houses" you speak of?

This is going to be unpopular with some — especially Americans, with the aspirational dream of the suburban house with the white picket fence and the garage — but blocks of apartments are a far more efficient use of land and energy than separate per-family dwellings. They don't have to be grim concrete high-rise poverty barracks, and they reduce the heat island effect, air conditioning/heating cost (shared walls, square/cube law impact on heat transfer), and can be packed more densely, making public transport infrastructure more efficient/rapid.

If you have 10 dwellings per 20 metres of street, rather than 1 dwelling, then you can serve ten times as many people with a bus route — or run the buses more frequently, making them vastly more convenient. That's the environment I live in; at peak times the bus service is once per 10 minutes, dropping to one per half hour at off times ... but I live a 10 minute walk from a major bus artery with about six different services each running at the same frequency via the city centre, including hourly services through the night. (I've visited parts of the USA with no bus service at all, or with three buses in each direction per day. Utterly not the same.)

178:

I've often thought that sidewalk trees need to be planted with their base a couple feet underground so their roots can't tear up the sidewalk. I don't know why this isn't possible.


Sidewalk Metal Grate Sidewalk
________ .................... __________
| Space For |
| Tree Roots | 2 feet
|____________________| deep
Ground


Then use some kind of hard wood so the carbon is sequestered... this isn't difficult.

179:

fucking hmtl... imagine it with more spaces.

180:

Pfui. Read Hot Earth Dreams. This isn't just the author being snotty, Under a Green Sky is part of the reason I wrote Hot Earth Dreams.

There are two trivial problems with Ward's work. One is that he got the sky color wrong: it's really hard to get a green sky (there's actually some research on this), and what we're more likely to see is that pearlescent off-white sky that you see over Shanghai and LA (among others) on hot, smoggy days, or to paraphrase Gibson, a sky the color of a cathode ray TV, tuned to a blank station. In other words, the future's already here, it's just not very evenly distributed.

The second problem is that Ward veers in a bad direction at the end of Under a Green Sky when he starts talking about how hard it will be to think and how uncivilized things will be when it gets hot. Apparently he's under the erroneous assumption that only people in temperate zones have done any real science, or philosophy, or whatever. I'm not going to deny that massive increases in the number of hot, humid days will degrade human (and other) performance, but we have to differentiate between that and absentmindedly blaming Third World climatic conditions for problems that were caused more by colonialism.

The third, more serious problem with this and similar books is that Ward's a working scientist, just as the other authors of similar books are are. As such, he can't get too speculative the way I did in Hot Earth Dreams and start pulling the different trends together to show how they interact. It's too speculative, and I do respect Ward and the others for stopping at the edge of their expertise.

Unfortunately, very few people can take all the disparate trends these authors left limp on the pages of their books, and put them together into a coherent, if necessarily speculative, narrative. I wrote Hot Earth Dreams to put the science together, in part because I wanted to understand the place they were afraid to go, in part I won't lose tenure or the possibility of grants by doing so.

181:

When I read it last month I noted that the cover (which has a lime-green sky) really overstates his 'off-white with maybe a tinge of very light green'.

Ignoring the last bit of the book, he seemed to be on pretty solid ground with the palaeontological evidence on how we know ancient atmospheric and oceanic conditions, and the implications geochemistry and ocean circulation for species survival. (Something that wasn't really known when I studied it in the last century, back when dinosaurs were coldblooded and wiped out by disease or sneaky egg-eating mammals.)

In regards to Ward's comments on tropical life, my dad's thesis supervisor was from India. One of the few comments of his I remember was that the reason India's economic planning didn't work was that the five-year plans were made by men in air-conditioned offices, but had to be carried out by men in the heat of rural India — and it just naturally took longer to get things done in the heat and dust because you couldn't work as hard or think as fast. This was back in the 1970s, or maybe 1960s (I'm not certain when he emigrated from India).

182:

Solar water heating -- it's trickier than you think to make it work reliably and over a long period of time i.e. decades. There's freezing in winter to consider, fungal growth in sealed water loops, accumulated crud, leaks, top-ups, overpressure, components such as seals and valves that can deal with continuous high temperatures, cracks in glass panes etc. Either you over-engineer it to work reliably from Day One or you spend a lot of time fixing stuff, the costs probably work out the same over time.

The homebrew bits-from-B&Q cheapo systems tend to go wrong within a year or two, some time after the glowing blog posts about how this DIY system is saving someone so many dollars a month in heating bills. See also buried heat-pump loop systems, great while they work, a PITA when they go wrong.

By the way the pipes for a roof-mounted solar heating system don't have to come through the roof, it's usually easier and less damaging to run them across the roof, down the side of the building and bring them in to the house through a vertical wall. Ditto for power feeds from roof-mounted solar panels too.

As for near-infrared generating reasonable amounts of electricity on PVs, it's unlikely to happen. Einstein got his Nobel Prize not for Relativity but for his explanation of the photoelectric effect -- selenium photocells don't produce any electricity below a certain wavelength of light, not just less electricity. Although PV cells don't work quite the same way as simple selenium cells the same principle of photons knocking electrons out of shells to produce potential differences hold.

183:

Unfortunately (for Ward), you always have to check his science. While I didn't formally double-check the models in his Out of Thin Air, which is this wonderfully persuasive book, I did ask a couple of paleontologists, only to be told that his reconstruction of past atmospheric composition was, to put it kindly, not accepted by the mainstream. More generally, I think there are reasons why his popular works haven't caught on with mainstream paleontologists. They have problems, even if those problems aren't obvious to people who aren't immersed in the field.

The more general question we're tip-toeing around here is whether what humans are doing is roughly equivalent to what the Siberian Traps did to bring on the end of the Permian. It's easy to believe the worst--that's where Ward goes with Under a Green Sky, but reality so far looks like it will not be as bad as The Great Dying, although nobody now living will be around to see what the worst actually looks like. Note that there's a great gulf between "Not as bad as the End Permian mass extinction," and "everything will be fine."

The scientist I prefer to follow is David Archer, who actually is a climatologist, not a paleontologist. However, I think that if you're serious about figuring out the future with climate change, you'd better be comfortable with sticking with the stuff that's mostly true even if you're off by a factor of two. For example, we're safe saying that RCP 8.5 will likely lead to global mean temperatures that are (making figures up) 5-10oC above where we are now, but saying the peak will be +8.5oC is going out on a limb. For another example, there's work suggesting that 500 ppm [CO2] atm is where Greenland starts irreversibly melting, but it's not clear if this is universally accepted. Then there's the question of how much methane and CO2 will come out of melting permafrost. That's the question on which the fate of civilization rests, and the answer still appears to be endless variations of "we don't know, because the pathways and fate of those gases are effin' complicated."

184:

This brings up an interesting question: globally, what is more popular? Apartments or houses? In other words, are Americans or Europeans the minority in this regard?

Let's exclude the 45% that don't live in urban areas for this.

185:

Re: 'As for desalination plants, scale-wise they're trivial compared with the water evaporating off the ocean's surface every day ...'

Just checking: So desalination is not a bad idea as far as marine environment goes?

The declining freely available marine oxygen suggests a marketing opportunity: 'oxygen farming'. After all, the only way to get something done in a capitalistic society is to stick a price tag on it. Toss in CRISPR Cas9 to breed even better O2 producing algae, seed the algae in specially designed containment areas, and you're on your way to a multi-billion IPO. (If you think this idea is nuts, consider what proportion of the world population drinks bottled water even when they have access to perfectly good tap water.)

https://worldoceanreview.com/en/wor-1/ocean-chemistry/oxygen/

Excerpt:

'Oxygen budget for the world ocean

Just like on the land, there are also photosynthetically active plants and bacteria in the ocean, the primary producers. Annually, they generate about the same amount of oxygen and fix as much carbon as all the land plants together. This is quite amazing. After all, the total living biomass in the ocean is only about one two-hundredth of that in the land plants. This means that primary pro­ducers in the ocean are around two hundred times more productive than land plants with respect to their mass. This reflects the high productivity of single-celled algae, which contain very little inactive biomass such as, for example, the heartwood in tree trunks.'

Think I once read that higher atmospheric O2 was one of the reasons earlier life grew as big and fast as it did, so there's both risk and opportunity as consequences here.

186:

Unsurprisingly to you, Gale and I had exactly that discussion a day or two ago...

187:

AFAIK, the majority of 'houses' in China are what we would call apartments or condominiums. At least in the cities, which is the majority of the population.

188:

Well, that might be one possible way towards Ward's Green Sky/end Permian scenario, if you could get it to work, which probably you won't.

Just from memory, the general idea is that what happened in the end Permian, in addition to a bunch of CO2 getting blown out of the Siberian Traps (possibly because the vulcanism burned through a Carboniferous coal layer above it) was that methanogenic bacteria were fertilized in the ocean by the ash. This led to a rapid build-up of methane in the air, a super greenhouse, and a serious drop in O2 levels.

Now, if you want to engineer algae to overproduce oxygen via photosynthesis, here's what could possibly go wrong.

First off, you have to contend with quadrillions of viruses and other algal pathogens already in the ocean. That's likely to stop you, but presumably you've got SuperAlgae(tm) with a team of immunologists who can keep it going for more than a few months or something (note that keeping big algae tanks clean is a fairly nasty and chronic problem). Actually, making SuperAlgae (tm) horribly toxic (so it won't be eaten) and possibly running on artificial DNA (so that viruses can't subvert it) might work, if you can find some toxin that can be produced in an energetically cheap fashion from C,H, and O (so that you don't waste all your photosynthate on toxin production. This is a non-trivial problem. Do not handwave this away.). You're created a serious biohazard, but heck, it'll produce oxygen.

Second off, you're going to have to massively fertilize your SuperAlgae (tm) patches, because, except when and where upwellings of deep water fertilize the surface, surface waters tend to be nutrient poor. Upwellings have to happen, just due to circulation, but they're not worldwide. Moreover, dead stuff tends to drop out of surface waters into the depths (which is why the deep waters have more nutrients), so you're going to have to keep fertilizing your SuperAlgae (tm) to keep it working on the surface, as it reproduces and dead algae rains down. Presumably you've got a huge fleet of solar-powered barges bringing humanure in solution from the nearest city?

Now we've got the problem of the enlarging dead zone. You've got dead SuperAlgae (tm) raining down in huge amounts. Do they decompose, or are they non-biodegradable, like some plastics? If they decompose, then you've got a really bad problem, because all the decomposers in the deep waters will use up the oxygen that's down there, enlarging the dead zone. If you're in an upwelling area, eventually all that anoxic water will well up to the surface, venting massive amounts of methane, and undoing all the "good" your SuperAlgae (tm) have been doing by pumping oxygen into the air. In fact, you might have made things worse than if the SuperAlgae (tm) weren't there at all.

If SuperAlgae (tm) don't decompose, then, basically, you're adding to the massive amount of inedible particulates (akin to plastic microbeads) already contaminating the world's oceans, so all that dead algae will just starve the zooplankton that would otherwise eat them. This in turn means that simpler parts of the oceanic food web--the bacteria--will become more plentiful, decomposition will increase, oceanic oxygen levels will go down, and you will have wasted your time, because all the oxygen your SuperAlgae (tm) are pumping into the air will start dissolving into the surface of the ocean.

And, eventually, some bacteria or virus (and I'd target Vibrio spp., which is already evolving to decompose plastic microbeads) will figure out how to kill SuperAlgae (tm), at which point it will radically decrease except for its corpses crapping up the oceanic food web. If SuperAlgae (tm) were deployed on a global scale, it would probably take decades for the last messy bits to disappear from the ocean, and for oceanic food webs to start to recover.

Still, you're right, I expect to see the IPO for something like this in the next few years, because the promise of riches leads people to ignore all sorts of inconvenient problems...

189:

They already do put trees below grade for that reason, if you search for "street tree grate" you'll find one approach that's been commercialised.

190:

I don't see many cities using them. Digging a hole has to be cheap, and so does lining the sides of the hole with wood? cement? plastic? - whatever they use. So every 20-30 years you don't have to dig up your trees... does it pay off or not?

191:

Salt water street spraying - my understanding is that this results in much less salt use, therefore less overall salination of nearby waters. (Highest risk are fresh water streams, lakes.)

That was one of the NC DOT's reasons for switching to applying brine to roads before ice/snow storms.

The other two reasons being that it was more effective in keeping roads clear and it cost less than applying salt & sand after the storms came through.

192:

3. Water cooled PV panels that make both electricity AND pre-heat the hot water tank?

193:

They already do put trees below grade for that reason, if you search for "street tree grate" you'll find one approach that's been commercialised.

You just have to make the opening where the tree is planted large enough for the tree to grow. And the grate has to be available in various sizes so the opening for the trunk can "grow" along with the tree.

194:

Regarding solar power satellites:

That's not what I've been hearing all these years - it's significantly more power, and no, the losses on a focused beam aren't that great.

I was being very simplistic about the power available, because the added complexity masks the launch costs.

In somewhat more detail, the sun delivers about 1.4 kW/m² in Earth orbit, or let's say 32 kWh/m²/day. On the ground, on a bright sunny day, you get up to about 1 kW/m². After night, clouds, seasons, etc. the amount varies: with a full tracking system, one data source I found indicated that large parts of the American southwest get 10-14 kWh/m²/day, vs. 6-7 if the panels are stationary. Of course we assume that the space-based system is fancy and tracks perfectly.

So that's the basic difference: by putting the panels in space, they produce somewhere between 2x and 5x what a comparable size array on the ground produces. More importantly, they provide base load power.

I don't think very good numbers exist on the efficiency of the microwave beam, since nobody has ever actually engineered one of these things. Various papers from the '60s and '70s are probably pessimistic, but when I tried to research this a while back it seemed like 50% efficiency is probably optimistic, less than that is probably realistic, and numbers like 70-80% I've seen online seemed unlikely. Maybe a first-gen attempt would be 25% efficient, with improvements possible over time.

In the end, it doesn't really matter, because the result is basically that (after losses) the space-based system indeed provides more or less a comparable amount of power to a ground system.

So, in the end, it's just doomed: you need seemingly infinite truckloads of solar panels either way (not to mention the rectenna farms, rad-hardened panels, flight avionics, transmission systems, ion drives, heat radiators, ground control, and all that other fun space kit). It's just that the space truck capable of throwing a delivery of them into high orbit costs $1E8-1E9 per truckload.

A solar power satellite does seem like a pretty nice way to power your arctic volcano lair though... at least if the volcano is extinct. Or you could just use a big mirror to light the place up.

195:

I'm also interested in ferrous sulfate, but apparently it's more complicated than just dumping the stuff in a likely-looking bit of ocean. Has anyone else looked into the stuff?

196:

So every 20-30 years you don't have to dig up your trees... does it pay off or not?

There's a range of benefits, among them better tree health and hence lower running costs that way too. I'm not saying that your city is necessarily populated mostly by morons, but if they elect people who don't do this there's probably not a good reason.

I suspect the reason they're not commonly used is that by the time the problem becomes obvious the tree is already quite large or the desperate shortage of trees is quite pronounced.

In Christchurch they have responded to some overenthusiastic trees by building elevated footpaths out of timber. Those are expensive but do send a message. Both to people "we like these trees" and to the trees "you behave or we'll use *your* corpse to build the next one".

In Sydney they simply cut the trees down and extend the road onto the now-useful land. Much as they do with left-wing neighbourhoods. Note that the promised Paramatta to the Airport in 40 minutes is what the train does now. By spending 10+ billion they've made cars nearly as convenient as trains and $50/day for parking sure beats $15 for a train ticket.

197:

Yes
Why people live in cities ... convenience ...
In your case, in about 10-15 minutes walk you are at Waverly station - trains to almost anywhere in Britain.
In my case I can get to almost anywhere in London in under an hour, using good public transport & anywhere in britain after a 15-25 minute tube journey & then a main line train - or even Paris / Brussel . Amsterdam without having to fly.
The local round-the-corner shops have imp[roved enormoously in the past 15 years, so I very rarely need to go elesewhere, except for speicalist non-food items ....

Britain is the exception, of course: "Houses" are the norm, not "apartments".

198:

"Houses" are the norm, not "apartments"

There's also the important terrace vs detached distinction for "houses", where at one end you have two storey plus basement terraces built before motorways were put next to them, at the other you have 10,000 square metres of floorspace on a couple of hectares (with a mandated floor space to section space of usually 50% or so). Melbourne is perhaps unusual in that one trend among the offensively rich is buying the mansion next door and knocking it down (if they're allowed to) or leaving it empty. The best neighbour is no neighbour... if they're as offensively rich as you are. Empty "investment properties" are not just a blight in the inner city.

199:

I think Asimov covered one possible end point of that kind of thinking.

201:

If we go the carbon sequestration route (as well as reducing emissions as much as possible - the two are not mutually exclusive but complementary), who is going to pay for it?

It will be us the consumers, not the industrial polluters.

There is no way to avoid that fact.

Even if we slapped a massive tax on carbon polluters to finance all of these methods of carbon sequestration, they will simply pass their new costs as a group onto the consumers by raising prices. When every player in an industry is faced with the same new cost mandated by government taxes, regulations or laws, they can each safely raise their prices to cover these new costs - safe in the knowledge that every one of their competitors will be doing the same - with out fear of losing market share.

In the real world corporations don't pay taxes, they merely collect them.

So we need to get off of our high horses about the unfairness of it all and how we are rewarding polluters for bad behavior. We can't let squeamishness about methods prevent us from getting the job done.

We can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough.

202:

When you add PV panels to a house, there's typically a gap between the underside of the panel and the roof. It gets very hot under there. You could run water tubing there, but it'd have to have a high melting point.

203:

And if you are going to plant trees (a worthy and necessary goal) you are going to need water.

Water, especially in the American West, is in short supply and the old methods of damming rivers to create open air reservoirs and drawing down the Ogallala Aquifer are no longer sustainable. We're draining the Ogallala dry and we've literally run out of good places to build dams out West (See "Cadillac Desert"). Case in point, the proposed Narrows Dam in Colorado is literally the length of Manhattan, built on porous soul with bedrock hundreds of feet deep and will hold only 10 feet of water. All of the locations for structures like Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee Dam have long since been built on.

While the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers have built engineering marvels (archaeologists 1,000s of years from now will study the remains of American civilization and conclude that we built dams like the Egyptians built pyramids) and we made a desert bloom (always a dream of Mankind), past methods of damming rivers and mining groundwater will no longer work especially in an era of climate change and drought.

Which means we have to manage the water we have better.

The place to start is to eliminate all of those subsidies to Western ranchers and a farmers (aka "rugged individualists who hate government except when the government and the American taxpayer is building them dams and providing subsidized water at well below market rates, IOW hypocrites") and let the market set a rational price for water based on availability - or lack of availability.

If you want to preserve resources and use them most efficiently, let the free market set the price. If you want to squander resources (like water out West) use socialism which is our current system of Western water management. And those farmers and ranchers are the biggest welfare queens in America.

When we finally have market prices reflecting the real cost of water, individual farmers won't squander it anymore. They will seek ways to minimize water loss and use water more efficiently.

My dream is that the Western US becomes a really big version of Israel (see "Let there be Water" by Seth Seigel). The water crisis will be solved by market forces and Israeli water management technology:

“According to 2010 reports, the average NRW rate in Israel is 12.9% …this value is composed from 2% of physical NRW caused by leakages and pipeline bursts and from 10.9% administrative NRW mainly caused by lack of public consumptions registration, inaccurate water meters, lack of water meters and illegal connections to the water supply network leading to illegal consumption.” (source: “Documentation of Best Practices in Non-Revenue Water Management in Selected Mediterranean Countries”, Mr. Yoav Yinon – Israel, February 2013).

Israel experiences less than 13 percent water supply losses of which only 2% are from actual physical leaks. The world average for non-revenue water losses is almost 37%. The average city water utility in the United States experiences 30 percent non-revenue water losses.

In the midst of a massive drought caused by climate change that triggered the Syrian civil war, Israel is exporting water. They are also leaders in desalination technology (over 90% of its domestic water use comes from desalination plants) and salt resistant crops. They have been using treated sewage for agricultural irrigation since the 1950s, over 90% of their sewage is treated an reused. They invented drip irrigation that literally does not waste a drop of water.

So give the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers new missions. Let the BoR build a new type of dam, the carbon dam that sucks CO2 out of the air and sequesters it. Let the CoE's mission expand from managing water ways to managing water more efficiently. Make the whole thing digital, lateral, dispersed and distributed like a solar power system built on microgrids.

204:

Like these I photographed on the bank of the Vitava in Prague. Haven't seen them in use much elsewhere.

205:

PSA - I tend towards the Ecomodernist viewpoint that it is better to solve our problems with new technology and applied knowledge rather than trying to turn the clock back to the Middle Ages. for example, I can;t think of anything more stupid than large scale organic farming. Organic farming requires twice the acres of industrial farming which means it destroys twice the habitat. Any farm, organic or otherwise

http://www.ecomodernism.org/manifesto-english/

If we were to accelerate the ongoing process of urbanization, abandoning small towns and villages in favor of living in cities or even slums, vast areas can be returned to nature. At the extreme end, if everyone lived in a city with the population density of Manhattan or Hong Kong, all 7 billion of us could live in a mega city the size of Colorado. Abandoned towns and village would shortly return to nature.

But it is agriculture that is the big destroyer of habitat. An equivalent of the land area of the West Hemisphere is used for livestock grazing and growing feed for livestock. Why not push for stem cell derived meet grown from bioreactors? How about replacing as much of the remaining agricultural lands with urban vertical farms (which are unfortunately still not suitable of high calorie crops like grains). Replace ocean fishing with bio-diverse aquaculture (not the old mono-culture fish farming methods).

Government can and should encourage these advances help and create the infrastructure for these changes. But for the most part it will happen on its own, driven by market forces.

And for the most part, these trends are already occurring on their own.

https://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/journal/no.-8-winter-2018/enlightenment-environmentalism?

206:

I'm not saying that your city is necessarily populated mostly by morons

Given that Toronto elected Rob Ford, and his scandals actually increased his vote, it's not a bad guess :-/

From Wikipedia:
After his DUI conviction became public, his share of the vote increased 10%. After it was revealed he was banned from high school coaching, he raised CA$25,000 in campaign contributions overnight.

Trump's brand of populism looks rather familiar up here. And scary to think that Doug Ford (Rob's older brother) is likely to be the next provincial premier. :-(

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/globe-investigation-the-ford-familys-history-with-drug-dealing/article12153014/

(The Globe and Mail is Canada's national right-wing newspaper; Ford is leader of Ontario's right-wing political party.)

207:

Re: 'First off, you have to contend with quadrillions of viruses and other algal pathogens already in the ocean.'

Thanks for the detailed response - good info there!

Anyways - to your point above: that's why I said that such practice should be 'localized'. By this I mean that any such algae farming should be done in specially constructed buildings which would ensure that such algae do not enter the environment. Apart from reducing the chance of mucking up the environment further, it reduces the likelihood of unwanted reactions, i.e., reduces the production costs associated with keeping the manufacturing area and active ingredients clean therefore improves overall operating profit.

IMO there are at least these check boxes to be ticked before such a plan/industry can succeed:

1- technical feasibility
2- scalability (both directions - smaller and larger - because with new industries/products it's hard to know in advance where the best market uptake will occur - see computers, telephone systems, bottled water, vehicles/transit, entertainment, etc.)
3- cost control (profitability) - manufacturer/distributor/installer/operator/owner
4- lifestyle impact - convenience, new benefits, esthetics
5- timing/integration - does it easily fit in with whatever else is selling, or is this so new/different that people will be too afraid to risk adopting it
6- measurable environmental impact is the last item on the check list because unless someone can measure it directly/easily, it's a scam/pipe dream.

208:

My experience, listening the the complaints of students trying to maintain pure cultures of algae in flasks and to someone who had the job of cleaning out algal tanks in one of those biofuel testbeds, is that keeping a pure strain of algae in a tank, especially when it is open to the air, is a chronic pain in the posterior. The normal procedure for the big open-air biofuel setups appears to be to drain them periodically, clean them with bleach or whatever to kill all the algae and biofilms stuck to the walls, and then to reflood it with *really clean* water and reintroduce the desired algal strain. Cleaning crews report headaches and other fun reactions from the cleaning chemicals. In addition to that joy, some algal species and especially some cynaobacteria happen to be pretty toxic in their own right.

So scalability is problematic, cost control is problematic, worker safety is problematic, environmental impacts are problematic, and feasibility....

If you're going to insist on farming algae, I'd look into giant kelp. At least, that way you know what you've got. It has multiple uses, including carbon sequestration. There's even an old SF trilogy that IIRC played with this idea.

209:

Heteromeles noted: "Looking at San Diego, which literally lives on borrowed water, I'm pretty sure that, absent a true miracle, many of its subdivisions, probably including the one I live in, will have to be abandoned"

This may happen fairly soon in Capetown and Jo'burg: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-safrica-drought-lesotho/south-africas-water-crisis-spreads-from-cape-town-idUSKBN1FK27A

That would be a huge wake-up call for the rest of us -- though deniers will still play the race card to claim that "it can't happen here". People like to think that we're so technologically sophisticated that past ecological disasters won't harm us if they reoccur. They're wrong. Our food chain (farm to supermarket) is much more fragile than we like to think. A really bad crop year wouldn't end well for us -- and even if we bought our emergency food from other countries, that wouldn't be so nice for their populations.

Heteromeles: "Our infrastructure, with long distances that require freeway driving, is going to be effectively impossible to convert over to something that can run on human foot traffic or bikes. As an example, we have to walk a couple of miles to get to the nearest grocery or food, and while we sometimes do that for exercise, if we had to walk for food, that would take up about three hours every few days, and we'd be limited to what we could carry in our packs."

"A couple miles" is nothing. I used to do that daily (uphill both ways, in the snow!) when I lived on my own in university. That's at most a middle class inconvenience. The real problem is "food deserts", which are increasingly common; for the working poor, they often have much farther to travel to find real food, and much less time to do it because they're often working double shifts. These are the people who are barely making it now, and who won't be able to survive in big cities without modern transportation.

Heteromeles: "I want to stress that abandonment is historically normal if horribly unpleasant."

Yes. My money's on seeing this first in much of Arizona. Although California has higher population pressure on a limited water resource, it also has more money to throw at the problem, but that's only going to delay paying the piper (pun not intended) for so long. People tend not to grasp the magnitude of the problem.

Heteromeles: "I am pushing for as sustainable a San Diego as I can get. After all, I could be wrong, and technology may make it possible for the city and county to become sustainable, and for this city to persist indefinitely."

This is one of the biggest problems in F/SF: the belief that we don't have to change our behavior; we just have to wait for technology to save us. (Not accusing you of this, just riffing on what you're saying.) In reality, many problems can be solved without technology by human behavioral changes, or by a combination of tech and behavior changes. Relying on a purely technological solution is bad SF/F... and worse public policy.

210:

I'm not sure we need to send the trees a message, but the local downtown got denuded recently... if I had a billion dollars I'd create a real city-center and give this place a soul - it doesn't currently have one.

211:

A mere pain in the posterior? I am sure that it is more like a masochistic exercise in futility :-) It's a similar problem to traditional, open-vat brewing, when you think about it. If I may divert from your blog entry, but not from your interest, I believe that the laboratory- and factory-farming-derived concentration on pure monocultures is a mistake, especially when the organisms concerned do not naturally form near-monocultures. The problem is, as you say, that you need an excessive amount of effort and use of nasty chemicals.

Yes, this is an argument for 'organic' methods, but not as they are often promoted - it's as you say about giant kelp, you want something that will thrive with only moderate help, and we should be breeding for THAT target. Some organisations are doing this, but not the dominant multinationals, but it was REALLY hammered by the way that the Department of Total Incompetence and Margaret Thatcher sold Britain's world-leading development laboratories down the river. I haven't kept track of what happened in Australia (another major player at that time) and in other places since, though I know it is still active.

But back to algae and similar. We should start with the species that form near-monocultures in eutropified watercourses, and select from those, because we KNOW they don't need a lot of attention to maintain that state. Yes, green hair algae, pondweed, etc. - I am sure that some of those could be made use of.

212:

I've read stuff at that level before, and can't help but notice that three of the four pieces mention Russ George, who's a very controversial figure, and someone I don't trust to correctly record/report the results of his experiments. Also note the discussion of possible disruption of diatom formation and the question of finding the "right" sort of spot in the ocean (one with lots of silicic acid) in which to dump the ferrous sulfate.

From the articles you've sent it looks like the use of ferrous sulfate for geo-engineering may be orthagonal to the use of ferrous sulfate for ocean fertilization.

Do you know of any reputable scientists who are studying the substance? The Lohafex and Eifex experiments look more promising, but the question of acidification is a daunting problem as well. It seems like what's needed is a combination of ferrous sulfate and some kind of base (simplistically, "baking soda," but more likely something else, for acidification control.)

My worry is that when we lose Florida (the start of real action on climate change in the U.S.) there will be very simplistic ideas about fixing the climate which have not been adequately studied, and they will be implemented in the cause of "Doing Something," possibly with disastrous results. One of my big arguments with Russ George is that he was such a loose cannon that he made it very hard to get permission to do more research.

213:

You might be able to do some really cute stuff with algae farming and "regular" farming; that is roll out a dry "algae mat" into otherwise poor soil, cover it with dirt and plant into it. You could even breed specific algae types which would help different types of soil.

214:

If you dig down into the South African crisis, it is largely political; IIRC one party controls the national levers of power and a different party controls Cape Town and Jo-berg. The nationally powerful party has refused to help their fellow human beings. I suspect that refusal to admit that water issues are coming is part of the problem, but basically one political party is punishing the other.

215:

"This is one of the biggest problems in F/SF: the belief that we don't have to change our behavior; we just have to wait for technology to save us."

Maybe we need a "Solarpunk" movement. Something that's mundane and near-future based, with a general preference for positive outcomes while not soft-pedalling how bad it can get.

216:

Common - all across London, certainly - & lots of other places in the UK ....

217:

There is a basic assumption here that is worth challenging, that people actually need to go places

There are really only two places I “have” to go in SF, taking the kids to school and going to work. Pretty much everything else is happy to come to me (groceries, anything from amazon, food from any resteraunt, any kind of service

Work may well transition soon to something most people don’t have to physically go to.

This will really seriously change the dynamics of housIng and population distribution, becoming more a matter of “what kind of thing you want to be close to”. Some people will choose cities some mountains some oceans etc

It also changes the efficiency allgorithms optimizing delivery routes rather then moving people around

218:

Fortunately, Rothamstead is still operating ..
Meanwhile the so-called "green" fuckwits are trying to trash the place & close it down ( Because they are researching "GM" which is EVIL ... & don't confuse us with facts .... )

219:

This is one of the biggest problems in F/SF: the belief that we don't have to change our behavior; we just have to wait for technology to save us. (Not accusing you of this, just riffing on what you're saying.) In reality, many problems can be solved without technology by human behavioral changes, or by a combination of tech and behavior changes. Relying on a purely technological solution is bad SF/F... and worse public policy.

There are two aspects to this. One is that there's not a subtext of liberal self-loathing and hating my neighbors. We're all ordinary people, and we'll all suffer horribly (and together) if things fall apart. I don't want that. On the other hand, the infrastructure fundamentals say that this could happen, and relatively quickly, and with little warning (think earthquake or pandemic flu). That's the eternal balance of prepping and still living a "normal" life. That's part of what I try to balance, because I know that, despite my instincts, not only can't most of us go back to the land and live a simpler, more pure life, but also I'm also likely to be unable to meet any of my conservation goals if part of the discussion is telling middle-class people that they have to voluntarily impoverish themselves to save the Earth. Some of these people came from places (like China) where that solution was tried, with horrific results.

The second aspect is the Black Swan side of technology. Unless you're an idiot, you don't count on black swans to save your ass. However, technology does occasionally change the playing field, as with social media or Unholyguy's comments about ubiquitous delivery services. Or practical fusion. While it's stupid to depend on black swans, it's equally stupid to think that black swans won't happen. It's simply that it's impossible to predict when they'll happen or what they'll do.

220:

"The other big issue is that a lot of building roofs are badly aligned and shaped to collect solar power. This is even true on homes that are being built now. To me, it's shocking that builders don't understand that solar works best when there's a lot of flat roof that faces south or west, but when I point that out, everyone from builders to planners and politicians looks at me in blank incomprehension."

Maybe you should build a model? Put a light on a track over a 2x4 foot piece of plywood with Lego houses? Then explain that in San Diego the sun will always be in the south, with an angle between X and Y, etc. Turn off the room lights, turn the board with the houses, and have the people observe the angles/directions which work and those which don't.

221:

I was working together with them at the time, and they had to take the Blessed Margaret to court to stop her from illegally selling off a charity. She DID sell off the Plant Breeding Institute (e.g. Maris XXX potatoes), which I was told by an ex-trustee was also illegal, but it was not fought by the then trustees. One of its projects at the time was using GM to try to put rust resistance into wheat, to avoid the need for fungicides. As with Rothamstead, that's a good use, unlike Monsanto's 'Roundup Ready' and worse.

222:

When you add PV panels to a house, there's typically a gap between the underside of the panel and the roof. It gets very hot under there. You could run water tubing there, but it'd have to have a high melting point.

I could be wrong, but I remember reading something years ago that PV cells lose efficiency as they heat up. I was thinking of something built directly into the panel to help cool it. Get a more efficient PV panel and dual use from the waste heat by running the coolant through a heat exchanger to pre-heat water for a hot water tank

I don't think it would collect enough energy to heat the water directly, but you might alternate rows of PV panels with "solar heating" panels.

223:

Maybe we need a "Solarpunk" movement.

Guerilla solar is already a thing, and the homesteading movement in the US is in some ways the green-ish version of the US survivalists. Both have an interesting and often deliberate mix of traditional farming and building with bleeding edge tech (by definition anyone with a homesteading channel on youtube, for example). That's "traditional" in the 'slightly more than 100 years' sense, admittedly, so in climate terms still very short term - they can't survive a long drought for example.

There's also some fun stuff being done with modern industrial materials in a post-earthship kind of way. From the woodchip compost (for heat as well as growing things), low-tech like rocket stoves to freaky stuff like DIY aerogels (you might only get 50% aerogel, but it's still really good, nonflammable insulation). I suspect we will see a 3D printable biofoam used for housebuilding fairly soon, and once that is rendered with clay or cement it'll look as much like a normal house as the owner desires.

224:

I was thinking of something built directly into the panel to help cool it

Those keep getting invented and they keep not making a dent in the market.

Here's one from 2013, an Israeli one from 2010 but there was also a Bondor one in Australia that was sold as "part of this complete roofing system" and also failed to take off.

The problem is that you're trying to do two completely different things at the same time: keep the silicon cool while getting the water hot. You ideally want the PV part under 50 degrees and the hot water over 80. Thermally linking the two makes that tricky.

It's important to note that most hot water systems only heat for part of the day, and it can be a very small part. In a Sydney summer, for example, it's easy to get 200 litres of water to 90 degrees by 10am. So you have another 6-10 hours of sunlight when you don't have cooling, and for the last half hour or so of the heating cycle you don't want the PV attached to the hot water.

There are industrial systems that do this but they typically run the hot water through a heat engine to extract work, or use the hot water directly (greenhouses, municipal heat). But again, there are few of those because the cost and complexity makes them unattractive investment.s

225:

This is a new housing development still being built close to where I live. Nearly all the houses have a roughly southwest or south facing roof. A lot of them already have solar panels.

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@52.578719,0.9913823,284m/data=!3m1!1e3

226:

it's equally stupid to think that black swans won't happen

The thing is that we have a whole bunch of possible black swans listed, but rather more on the "go horribly wrong" side than the "save us all" side. The IPCC is quite correctly leaving everything out of their projections that doesn't have consensus or is too hard to predict, but what that means in practice is that they are always optimistic with a chance of catastrophic error.

I have occasional nightmares about stuff like the recent quakes in Japan and NZ being symptoms of sea level rise, and that they presage another quake in a less lucky location... like under some unstable clathrates. People would forget Fukushima in a second if a gigatonne of methane bubbled up in the Sea of Japan. If only because there'd be a lot of ships sitting on the bottom of the sea full of dead people.

227:

That has the look of a building code that requires a certain level of environmental performance, and one way to get it is PV.

Australia has that, but also the US syndrome of complex roofs, usually black, and no thought for orientation either.

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@-33.8689806,150.9399598,279m/data=!3m1!1e3

Note the WNW facing array on the right hand end of Evans St that picture, and the flat roof with propped up panels in Throsby St. That's a traditional Australian "keep building extensions and have just enough slope on the roof to let the rain drain off". That one is extreme though, they've paved basically the whole section (probably a combination of illegal building an "legally temporary" structures.

228:

Stuff happens to methane in the water, and it's not clear how often it actually reaches the surface. I've got enough on my plate, so I'll start worrying about oceanic methane emissions when I start seeing good evidence of a lot of methane reaching the surface, even from shallow Arctic deposits. So far the published evidence says it gets gobbled by methanotrophs on the way up.

229:

Maybe we do need a solarpunk movement

I think you missed the turn a little: solarpunk, like cyberpunk, is a literary movement. Unlike cyberpunk, we don't have the equivalent of neuromancer making all the literati sit up and take notice, at least in my little backwater (and noting that I'm not among the literati). Instead we've got a manifesto and examples of work that could be retconned as solarpunk (cf: some of Miyazaki's films, Le Guin's Always Coming Home, etc.).

More literary types can and should chime in. I think there's something useful in writers doing serious critiques of where SFF is now, especially critiques that come in the form of *really good,* *widely popular* stories that don't fall into the established dystopian/military/alt. history bins.

Are there good examples of solarpunk out there? Burke's Semiosis, perhaps?

230:

I think rather than building codes it's the fact that one developer builds all the houses on a development. I understand that in Australia it's common to lay out the roads and services on an estate and let owners build the houses individually.

231:

I think a lot of people miss the point of the whole black swan thing

The theory is meant to illustrate two things

1: human brains are pretty bad at accessing the impact of low probability effects and tend to be way over confident that the status quo will more or less continue
2: while the probability of any one black swan happening is low, over a decent timeframe (say 20 years) some black swan somewhere is likely to happen and change the status quo dramatically

It’s like watching a casino full of poker players, while any individual is unlikely to hit a royal flush , if you wait long enough someone will hit it

As far as whether they are positive or negative for humanity, over shortish say 100 year time frames, my take is they mostly skew positive. That’s because most of the fast cycle stuff actually comes from humans trying to make their lives better, and most of the bad stuff is random on a biological , geological or astronomical timeframe which is orders of magnitude slower. And hence much less likely to “hit” in a short time frame

The main black swan risk for short term event horizons is humans inadvertently doing something bad to themselves, which is a risk, but still less so since that’s usually not the intention.

So, just like I told all the peak oil people fifteen years ago, while I can’t tell you exactly which black swan is going to develop to handle the crisis de jur (whether it be oil depletion or global warming) the smart money is on something popping

To return to the casino anoligy, it’s likw better on a gambler hitting that’s royal flush before the next glaciation event rolls in and destroy the casino

I realize optimism is not a common theme on this blog, but I am optimistic.

232:

Fairfield is at best brownfield, but mostly it's piecemeal redevelopment of existing suburbs. I'm not sure what the mix is, but there's a combination of "renovate and extend until the original house is gone", buy to demolish, and developers building mcmansions because that's where the profit margins are.

Our inner city new suburbs tend to be single-developer because it's hard to keep a consortium together for the time it takes to buy enough government to get hold of the free land. I mean "buy the land at market rates via a competitive tendering process", because that's what they tell us has happened. But in those cases what we get are clusters of tower blocks because the whole point of big developments is to make sure political parties get large donations from identifiable donors. Sorry, I mean "fit more people into the city".

233:

making all the literati sit up and take notice

But that's a "how do I make my educational video go viral" question. David Spratt has been trying different things for a while now and so have others.

The literati mostly seem to be those science fiction authors who are stuck with "writing about what is and what follows from that" rather than making stuff up out of whole cloth. But I'm not entirely sure that having airport novels that include global warming would be any more useful than increasing the pool of inner city hipsters who try to act as though they care would.

234:

The problem is that you're trying to do two completely different things at the same time: keep the silicon cool while getting the water hot. You ideally want the PV part under 50 degrees and the hot water over 80. Thermally linking the two makes that tricky.

Except that's NOT what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to cool the PV panel to below 50 degrees. period. full stop.

I don't expect the coolant from that will be warm enough to heat the hot water. But the coolant from the PV system has to dump the heat it has taken away from the panels somewhere. Why not into a pre-heat tank for the hot water system to draw from?

I just checked, and the cold water coming out of my tap is 10 degrees C. How much energy will it take to heat that up to 80 degrees C? What if the water going into the hot water heater was already PRE-heated to 45 degrees C?

Would it take less energy to bring the household water up to the desired temperature? You know it would. If you don't need hot water, just allow the PV coolant to pass through a radiator of some kind and dump the heat back into the air where it came from.

235:

Troutwaxer @ 215

“Maybe we do need a solarpunk movement”

I think you missed the turn a little: solarpunk, like cyberpunk, is a literary movement.

Does it have to be merely a literary movement? Maybe it's time to take it to the streets and have it become a real movement!

236:

I'm trying to cool the PV panel to below 50 degrees. period. full stop.

Yes, in that case your idea works. You're drawing cool (mains) water then dumping it. In the sewers, or you may be able to dump it into the stormwater system. I'd be cautious about putting it on the garden or into a swimming pool (if you get the pool over blood temperature it's not nice to swim in, especially in the summer).

I don't expect the coolant from that will be warm enough to heat the hot water. ... Why not into a pre-heat tank for the hot water system to draw from?

Because you will need thousands of litres of water and the marginal gain from cooling is likely to be low. This is where "how many tonnes do you have on your roof" becomes a problem. To be efficient you need a thermosyphon, but that means the cold tank has to be above the heat source.

As soon as you add a pump you're burning electricity to move water, so you're at best going to reduce the marginal benefit of cooling. In practice I fear you're going to negate most of the gain and pay quite a lot to do it.

PVOutput in Australia has a bunch of people who spray water from rainwater tanks onto their panels to cool them and they do get quite a significant output boost on hot days. Those systems are minimal, though, and they trade less extra hardware required for shorter panel life... and lost water, obviously. A sealed system would mean bonding coolant pipes to the back of PV panels which would void the warranty if it didn't break everything. I think that design would be tricky - doable, people have obviously done it, but tricky.

One of the subtle features of the gap under PV panels is that you do get airflow there, driven by heating the air under the panels. It's easily overridden by wind but in that case you're almost always getting increased airflow from the wind so it doesn't matter. Or... you should, that's why they have a minimum clearance specified. Some of the DIY setups I've seen don't have that and I recall reading horror stories of roofing materials that failed when the temperature got to 80/100/120 degrees (that's degrees science, as AvE puts it).

237:

Sorry, just to be clear: that's a follow up to the "can heat 200 litres of water to 90 degrees by 10am" problem that I mentioned in my previous post. Even if you only need 1000-2000 litres of water in your pre-heat tank, that's a lot of water, and you really want to cool it down overnight... at a time when you're also trying to cool your house ready for the next day. So you don't want the preheat tank near the house.

You may end up with a second set of "lunar panels" where you pump the hot water onto the roof so it can heat the night sky. Which people here do, but they do it to keep the thermal mass inside their house cool. Viz, you have a big tank in the basement (or in the middle of the living space), and a radiator on the roof. That can be designed to thermosyphon, but I think most systems go for smaller, easier piping systems and a pump. For thermosyphon you'd likely want a 30-50mm pipe going straight up, because the temperature difference will be low.

The syphons I've used have either been 50+ metre-degree differentials (black polypipe on the roof, pool on the ground) with 15mm pipes, or 15-30 mD systems with bigger pipes (parallel connection to metal collector/radiators).

We did manage to get one in-ground pool over 40 degrees with a very simple polypipe syphon, at ~45 degrees south, so they can work really well. Obviously you want a thermal cutoff to stop that happening :)

238:

If you haven't looked at it yet, you might want to read Solarpunk: Notes towards a manifesto.

239:

Sounds like these humanure systems have got the pathogens part fairly well taken care of. But how do these systems handle the various pharmaceuticals and their metabolites? I've read that amount of caffeine and birth control hormones is pretty significant in city wastewater. What will all this other stuff do when concentrated even more?

240:

Again if you don't go into that knowing that it's just an intellectual exercise you're not going to pick that up by reading the manifesto or most of the writing. It's classic ivory tower stuff, they don't want to acknowledge other users of the jargon they're stealing, and they definitely don't want to engage with the people they're talking about. All links point inward, as they say.

Which is acceptable while it's a small group of useless people masturbating at each other. When they start wasting necessary resources, especially attention, that's when they become overt enemies of the species. Like Elon Musk, for example. Lots of resources, all going into a project that can't possibly succeed in the next millenia but we pay a high price now.

I'm not dismissing the utility of stories ("Mars colony!"), but this kind of "we're going to talk about a world where other people have solved the problems that we're exacerbating" at best serves the cause of delaying action.

241:

But how do these systems handle the various pharmaceuticals and their metabolites?

Largely by avoiding them. Two ways: don't take the drugs where you can avoid them, and don't import dirty water. If your pee doesn't have antibiotics and extra hormones etc in it, you don't have to remove them from it.

Likewise, if you don't use drinking water on your garden you're missing out on most of the plastic and other waste that comes out of the industrial water system. IME most humanurists strongly prefer rainwater over municipal supplies. If they're using river water they're going to have the same problem as everyone else. But... that's an input problem not an output one.

Treating urine and feces to remove stuff like pharmaceuticals is hard, and generally humanure people don't even try. I think their point is more "we're no worse than the industrial systems on that, and better in a whole lot of other ways".

242:

Again if you don't go into that knowing that it's just an intellectual exercise you're not going to pick that up by reading the manifesto or most of the writing. It's classic ivory tower stuff, they don't want to acknowledge other users of the jargon they're stealing, and they definitely don't want to engage with the people they're talking about. All links point inward, as they say.

That's pretty much true of all literature and entertainment, really.

The weird thing is that sometimes the street finds its own uses for things. Remember where that meme came from? Sometimes people go to the trouble of instantiating things they find in fiction.

243:

The weird thing is how you define optimism. OGH (in Palimpsest) talks about a future where humans are still around after the sun dies. In Hot Earth Dreams I talk about humans surviving to the next ice age 40,000 years from now. What's pessimistic about that? That we don't turn into gods in the next 20 years?

244:

In general, what I find pessimistic about your particular view is that this current set of problems will only be solved by some kind of massive retreat / retrenchment in population/standard of living /technological sophistication, that large parts of the planet will be abandoned or flooded and that we as a species will mostly sit on our hands while all this happens, occasionally doing ineffective things that make little sense. There also is a strong dose of back to the farm weaved in for some odd reason

I haven’t read your book but I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good sense of where you are coming from over the last few years

I understand why you think that way, however what I am trying to point out is that extrapolating the current state of things a hundred years forward without any major swan style disruptions is the one possible future that is the least likely to actually occur

I’m 48 years old and I’ve seen the world change competently, suddenly and with very little warning at least three or four times since then. It’s not likely to look anything like I would project in another twenty

245:

I guess we have different heroes. I'm impressed by the people who take some coconuts, screw-pines, driftwood, breadfruit, and clam shells and make one of the fastest boats in the world. The guys saying we'll be as gods because technology-handwave-black swan-smiley face? Not so much.

I'm optimistic that when our descendants get stuck with things like a wildly fluctuating climate, untrustworthy groundwater, and plants and animals that are migrating to stay alive, then they'll stay alive too, fall in love, have kids, grow old, be cared for, and pass on what's important to them. That's a huge challenge, but it's one that our ancestors met for going on 300,000 years. And you'll notice, if you look at their skulls, that often their brains were bigger than ours are? That says something.

However, you're correct: generally I'm a pessimist. What that means in practice is that either I'm right, or I'm pleasantly disappointed because reality turned out better than I expected. An optimist? At most you're right, and if you're wrong, reality sucks more than you wanted it to.

246:

I find being an optimist is far and away the best way to tackle life

Pessimists never inspire themselves or anyone else to do things they think impossible and rarely inspire anyone to do anything at all

Pretty much everything of value that has been created by our species came about because someone somewhere was too optimistic to accept it couldn’t be done

I’m not saying you are more likely to be right as an optimist mind you but you are much more likely to be effective at accomplishing things and are much more likely to be opporating at your peak capabilities and pushing yourself and those around you

But yes, we have very very different ideas of where we want humanity to end up which is why we construct such different narratives about the future of the species. I believe that despite all the shortcomings of our current society it is still the ultimate time to be alive as a human and I want more onward and upward. While I feel respect for our ancestors and all they accomplished I wouldn’t trade places with any of them nor would i think of hkankty returning to any of its former states anything but a regression

247:

"...and that we as a species will mostly sit on our hands while all this happens, occasionally doing ineffective things that make little sense."

Well, that's just what we do do. On an individual scale, there are reasons like the fondness for procrastination. On the collective scale, much of the problem is the aristocracy (whatever name they went by in any given situation). As long as they can insulate themselves from whatever's going on by making other people take the shit for them, nothing much changes; indeed it's easier for them if things stay the same so they can continue to use the same methods for making their own lives easier and don't have to adapt. So for everyone else things get worse and worse until they are so bad that the aristocracy can no longer evade the consequences.

A localised but clear example is Victorian London suffocating itself on the fumes of its own shit (plus the associated diseases) with nobody doing anything about it until things got so bad that Parliament found it too smelly to sit.

Another example is the Israeli water supply being run with great efficiency as described earlier in this thread. This has happened because the geographical and political situation of Israel is such that lack of an efficient system is a very effective way of generating headaches for the aristocracy, and they have a good demonstration going on next door of what happens if you don't get your act together.

248:

and that we as a species will mostly sit on our hands while all this happens, occasionally doing ineffective things that make little sense

"occasionally doing ineffective things that make little sense" seems like an accurate summary of our response to climate change. The optimistic view is "sometimes we do useful things".

I think this is where Frank's fiction comes in. Solarpunk lets people imagine that the huge changes we're seeing now are positive for the people who matter, and that the future "black swan" events required to keep business as usual going will occur when required.

Whereas I look at the earnest discussions in the media about whether the US wars in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iran, Korea, whatever will "turn hot" and think "gee, you can be lucky twice, five times, even ten times, but how long can you just keep on being lucky?" How long until someone comes up with a way to reciprocate the total war? Albeit I'm reading "Engineering Infinity" right now, where Malak and Laika's Ghost aren't really confidence-inspiring. Black swan events in that spectrum are IMO much more likely to be "hackers cause road transport collapse as an accidental side effect of installing coin miners on traffic light controllers". The pessimist says it's more likely to be "Iran responded in kind and permanently destroyed half the US power grid".

Positive black swan events like efficient, low-neutron fusion might happen but I'm not sure how. AFAIK we don't have a plausible mechanism other than the Pons and Fleischmann one and while that seems no less impractical than any other system, they're all comfortably in the "pending unexpected breakthrough" file. Even then, we'd have a very hot world even if we carefully dealt with the waste heat from the huge set of fusion reactors and most likely we'd have to build a whole bunch extra to terraform the planet.

A real "save us all" black swan event would have to be something trivially replicatable so everyone could have one, that sucked CO2 out of the air and used solar radiation to turn it into food and housing. It's thermodynamically possible, but quite what mechanism would be involved is beyond me. Perhaps moist algae as feedstock for a genuinely self-replicating 3D printer (viz, a "programmable plant").

249:

"It seems like what's needed is a combination of ferrous sulfate and some kind of base"

How about a compound of Fe(II) and the conjugate base of a weak acid, instead of a strong one? Like, say, for instance, water. Fe(OH)2 is not very soluble, but we are surely talking about such low absolute concentrations that it is still soluble enough; and it is also weakly alkaline, so it is of itself something of a counter to carbonate acidification.

Fe(II) might exacerbate problems with anoxia, though; solutions of Fe(II) tend to go brown over time if you leave them out as they are oxidised to Fe(III) by ambient oxygen. Why are we not considering Fe(III) in the first place? Is it that that very oxidation is what the microbes we're aiming it at want it for in the first place?

250:

There's a science fiction short story I read that feature "poorberries" or something similar, a manufactured weed plant that grew fruit which provided a complete diet for people. Like potatoes or coconuts, but engineered to be an early coloniser of disturbed ground. Something like that would do most of the "programmable plant" work, and could possibly be manufactured with near-future technology.

I'm thinking you'd want a few things that people are already chasing: improved photosynthesis; pesticide tolerance (more generally: very, very hard to kill); effective phyoconcentrator of pollutants (especially heavy metals) in the non-edible plants. Add in "fruit that's hard for other animals to access" and "easily spread seeds" and you have something that could further simplify and streamline the biosphere. Sure, we'd quickly have just poorberries, people and pets, but that's a small price to pay for the survivors being able to continue living as we do now (modulo the more efficient biosphere).

251:

"something... that sucked CO2 out of the air and used solar radiation to turn it into food and housing"

As far as food is concerned, of course, that's what plants do, and since the human body is so maddeningly dependent on very small quantities of a very large number of plant-derived chemicals in addition to plain carbohydrate it probably works out most effective to carry on using plants rather than trying to artificially synthesise all the odd things that plants make. Also, the carbon content of food is mostly metabolised back to CO2 not long after you eat it and breathed back into the atmosphere. For these reasons I think it's probably better to treat the "food" part of the question separately: the requirements are so different that a good solution to one probably isn't a good solution to the other (we already know that using food-type methods to produce non-food things has problems like us probably needing the land more to produce food, and tending to need so much energy to get from having the stuff as part of a plant growing in the ground to having it in a useful form that it may well not be any better than industrial methods).

But the "housing" part - which I am going to generalise to "materials" - it does infuriate me that so little of the overall research effort is going into things like artificial photosynthesis (or the photoelectric cement production method mentioned earlier). Really, the oil companies ought to be all over it. They could simply replace the oil wells with photosynthetic hydrocarbon production plants and then carry on as normal - or indeed better than as normal, since the implication of the idea is that we'd be using a lot more hydrocarbon-based materials in place of ones made from heavier elements.

Another neglected point seems to be solar power for process heat. If you're in a part of the world with a lot of sunshine and using a process which takes less than a day per batch, it's good for a couple of thousand K, which covers the needs of an awful lot of processes.

252:

Apart from cracks in the glass, all those problems apply to ordinary central heating installations as well - including freezing in winter, although admittedly that doesn't really happen in a comparable way. If you can't get the one system to be as reliable as the other then you're not doing it right.

Come to that, cracks in the glass are also a symptom of not doing it right; they aren't a problem with windows.

As for IR solar cells, they certainly work and you've more than likely got several of them. A solar cell is just a large-area photodiode, and photodiodes are nearly all near-IR devices, because near-IR photons penetrate the material further than visible ones and so generate carriers within the bulk of the material rather than just at the surface. Indeed there's no basic gain from converting visible photons because once you have photons more energetic than required by the band gap the extra energy is wasted. The reason for chasing visible photons is that that's where the majority of the energy in sunlight is. The trouble with making efficient solar cells for solar power is that you want complex layered structures and/or semiconductors with a larger band gap than silicon, both of which conflict with the need to make extremely large devices, so a large area of relatively inefficient silicon cells is generally a much easier way to go.

253:

that sucked CO2 out of the air and used solar radiation ....
Well, not quite that good, but:
HERE is a start
More information, from the "suppliers"
on this page
V interesting

254:

That looks pretty cool, thanks.

255:

Iron(and so on) fertilization has perspective, but mostly, - again, looking at the economic incentives - as a way to sustainable produce vast quantities of sea-food. Note that the biggest experiment to date was about the salmon harvest.

What iron fertilization does is increase the primary productivity of the high-seas low-productivity zones. The sequestering only happens if that primary produce is then allowed to precipitate out, but... there is no monetary paypack in that. (and if you fund it out of carbon taxes, you are just asking for people to do a shit job of it.)

What could be profitable (it certainly is in shallow waters), and has incentives in the direction of doing it right, is vast floating giant kelp and oyster farms. - Because this is a potentially very cheap source of protein and food in bulk. And heck, oysters shells are calcium carbonate - So at the disposal end, we can drop them into the electrolytic lime furnaces.

256:

And nearly every disaster has been caused by optimists ignoring the warnings from the pessimists. The story of much of my life is people saying "But we couldn't have forseen THAT!", me responding "If you remember, I predicted it.", followed by them saying "Well, that's just YOU."

257:

Not necessarily oysters. Mussels are more productive around the UK and, if we stopped putting heavy metals and toxic chemicals into our rivers, the UK's potential production of them is gargantuan. Also, shells can be used as fertiliser and for chickens etc. merely by crushing them.

258:

And back to the "cycling can sabe teh planit Eleebentee!!" argument.

How about if you can expect the wind to be strong and unstable enough to make walking and even sometimes standing up difficult? We can get whole weeks of this sort of weather in some places.

259:

Making use of all that shiny modern telecoms infrastructure and not insisting that people go to an office every day would make a bigger difference.

A laptop and home internet 3-4 days per week can easily cut your average office drones travel in half.

260:

Don't build sprawling metropolises there, then; build ones where public transport is feasible, or build somewhere else. You ARE aware that, under such conditions, driving is also dangerous, both to drivers and pedestrians near the road (e.g. on pavements/sidewalks, building entrances etc.)?

As Frank Landis and others have said, there are metropolises that will simply have to be rebuilt or even (largely) abandoned. You can deny that for all you are worth, but sooner or later the environmental facts will force such actions.

In any case, I was not talking about such locations, and the argument that, because a solution isn't universal, it shouldn't even be considered, is quite simply nonsense. Also, such locations are far rarer than you imply, though there are a few - and I am planning a cycle tour in one later this year :-)

261:

Moules Marinieres ... OINK
The production of Mussels ( as well as oysters ) from the Essex & Suffolk costs is considerable - & the locals & MP's & business try to make sure that the waters are clean - too much money to be lost if some fuckwit poisons the shellfish-beds.

262:

'How about if you can expect the wind to be strong and unstable enough to make walking and even sometimes standing up difficult? We can get whole weeks of this sort of weather in some places.'


You use a different means of transport on those days. When I lived in Altrincham and worked in Salford I cycled the 11 miles to work. But when the weather forecast said rain I drove. Even in the 1970s I never got wet because the forecast was wrong. There were a couple of times when I didn't believe the forecast of rain and got soaked.

263:

Oysters, of course, used to be food for the poor because why else would you try and eat something that was coughed up by someone with a really bad chest infection. The idea of them being posh food is an incomprehensible later development.

264:

Elderly Cynic noted: "I believe that the laboratory- and factory-farming-derived concentration on pure monocultures is a mistake, especially when the organisms concerned do not naturally form near-monocultures."

Yes! I work with several researchers who study bioreactors and hydroponics, and the goops that seem most stable are the ones that form an ecological community. The monocultures simply aren't stable under laboratory conditions. As you note, there are organisms (e.g., those responsible for algal blooms) that can form monocultures naturally, but the side-effects are rarely nice if they're let loose in the wild. And in small-scale systems, they still tend to poison themselves over time. Nature really doesn't like monocultures.

EC: "it's as you say about giant kelp, you want something that will thrive with only moderate help, and we should be breeding for THAT target."

Yes! Among other things, macroorganisms like kelp are far easier to control than microorganisms; if nothing else, you can whack them with various blunt or edged instruments or turn your goats loose. ("Release the kraken... then the goats!") That's not to say they're always easy to control (see: kudzu, buckthorn, dog-strangling vine), but definitely easier than having to deal with the "green goo" problem (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_goo) that biological nanotech people would like us to pretend couldn't possibly happen.

Troutwaxer notes: "If you dig down into the South African crisis, it is largely political"

Could well be, but isn't that exactly the problem Frank began this blog entry describing? As I noted earlier, most problems that have human causes require human (not technological) solutions. Lifeboat rules suggests (to hopelessly mix a metaphor in this context) that everyone should start bailing together instead of arguing about whose responsibility it is until the boat sinks.

Unholyguy notes: "It’s like watching a casino full of poker players, while any individual is unlikely to hit a royal flush , if you wait long enough someone will hit it"

Yes, but only with a small but important addition: "except that there's a large bomb set to go off if, as sometimes happens, nobody gets a royal flush in the next 15 minutes". The problem with black swans is that they may not happen until it's too late. The precautionary principle says we should be acting now, not counting on a statistically possible but rare event. If your goal is to see millions of deaths, you can twiddle your thumbs and wait for someone to solve the problem. If you'd rather avoid that scenario, best start working together now.

The contrast you noted between optimism and pessimism is profoundly important. But it's far too simplistic to say that we need optimists or that we need pessimists. In practice, we need a mixture of both: optimists to inspire people to keep trying, and pessimists to work on solutions, just in case. The required balance depends on the situation, but it's usually a balance.

265:

Actually, that's not a solution. It works well if cycling is a minority method of transport, but is a disaster if it is a majority one and the only realistic alternative is (private car) driving. If every cyclist drives, chaos ensues - even more than at present, as the system is not prepared for it. In that case, as dpb said in #259, most people have to take the day off or work from home, and only people who absolutely need to travel would drive. Well, that's just what many places do in really foul weather at present!

If there is a viable public transport network suitable for the vast majority of trips (as in London), the whole matter is moot.

266:

Also, such locations are far rarer than you imply, though there are a few - and I am planning a cycle tour in one later this year

Actually, I don't even imply, never mind state, that they're commonplace as such, but they do include the entire European Atlantic coast, even ostensibly sheltered parts like Wales and Ayrshire in Scotland.

On the tour, if you're doing the Scottish islands and want to discuss in a more joined up manner, I'm on DeviantArt with the same username, and they have a private message system called Notes.

267:

"I believe that despite all the shortcomings of our current society it is still the ultimate time to be alive as a human and I want more onward and upward."

We definitely live in a golden age. The question is whether we can sustain it.

268:

Also, a grown salmon consists of several pounds of carbon which is not in the atmosphere. I'm not sure the carbon has to sink to the bottom of the ocean to be "sequestered." It may be that the carbon merely needs to enter the oceanic food chain (and not be eaten by humans.)

269:

Not really. It's really only the Western Isles, a few other such locations, and upland locations that are that extreme, and their population is low. It may SEEM like that, but Bristol and Glasgow actually have a lower average wind speed than Cambridge, where people cycle the whole year round! They are more prone to spells of strong wind, of course, but those are pretty rare (as their averages indicate). Even the windier towns in the UK, like Fort William, St Davids or Okehampton, are all small, and it is rare for cycling to be infeasible. There are more large, windy towns on the French coast, but people DID (and, to some extent do) use cycling as their form of transport in those.

Note that I am NOT saying that there are no problems, but that they are soluble. In particular, the main reason that cycling is dangerous in strong winds is because drivers are not expected to make allowances for the effect of the conditions on both their car and other road users. That wasn't the (formal) legal situation when I learnt to drive, and still isn't (in theory).

I may well contact you, unless I find DeviantArt's conditions unacceptable.

270:

Re: Algae - toxicity at every step

Interesting article - thanks! Glad you came up with a safer equally effective carbon-sink alternate (giant kelp).

That said, I'm guessing that there's a slew of different algae out there and perhaps a few types/species might be both safer and as usable, therefore would prefer to not completely write algae off. After all, consider how many 'normal' foods in our Western diets are deadly at some stage, part or form:

1- Fruit Seeds - e.g., apples, cherry pits contain a type of hydrogen cyanide called prussic acid.
2- Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which causes kidney stones
3- Nutmeg contains myristicin, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor and psychoactive substance that can induce convulsions, palpitations, nausea, eventual dehydration, and generalized body pain.
4- Potatoes - any spuds with green skin are also likelier to contain dangerous amounts of solanine which causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
5- Almonds - California jackpot! - this nut can cause any of the following poisonings: selenium, copper, cynanide ... plus a few others!
6- Raw Honey - can contain Clostridium botulinum, fatal to infants.
7- Red beans contain the toxic agent, Phytohaemagglutnin (Kidney Bean Lectin)
8- Fava beans contain a substance that essentially explodes your red blood cells if you happen to suffer from glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency ... result is hemolytic anemia (can be fatal).
9- Tapioca (casava) - a favorite infant food - raw casava/tapioca contains cynanide.

There are other foods, but the above are among the most widely eaten.

271:

Re: Perfect combination of nature & IOT

I'd stick one of these at every bus/train stop behind the bench or as the exterior wall of the glassed in waiting area, along suburban area mall parking lot medians, school/train pick-up areas, corp/business offices both at street level (underground parking ramp access) and roof-tops around the A/C and heating ducts, etc. In fact - quite a few possible applications and locations.

Great idea could be made even better if you could also get some edibles for humans, birds, bees, etc.

272:

Victorian London is actually a great example. Regardless of how severe the physical problems were at the time and how much they struggled to deal with them, 140 years later none of those things are a problem anymore. And most of those problems got solved in ways that Victorian Londoners could not have imagined at the time

As another example, if in 2008 someone would have described what is currently happening with solar, electric cars and batteries that would have sounded insanely optimistic even to me

Similarly if someone had described smartphones to me in 2004

I’m not sure exactly what 140 years on the future looks like for humanity but if history is any kind of guide it will involve
- more humans and a richer society using more advanced technology
- Pretty much all of today’s problems are solved to the point of being ancient history
- A whole slew of new problems that seem unsolvable
- Many pessimists declaring the end is nigh

273:

Cool. Of course, when I was looking in '13, there WERE NONE. ZERO. ZIP. And yet they had used ones for sale in Europe.

For that matter, why is there one, and only one, hybrid minivan in the US?

Sorry, but it *is* the oil companies. And if you continue to doubt, I suggest you read up on the history of Standard Oil of New Jersey (aka Esso, and now Exxon).

274:

Ah, but I've got my own, even less expensive answer to SPS: huge *inflatable mirrors... and at the focus, a steam engine generator.

275:

I'm sorry, I came to a full stop. Now, I'm assuming that you're talking in Celsius degrees.

There is NO REASON AT ALL to want hot water at 80C, unless you're making coffee. A hot tub at 46C is *too* *freakin'* *hot*. I'll wager that when you take a shower, it's not over 41C.

So, saying that you want to keep your PV panels no higher than 50, if your water is over that, you need to circulate the water a *lot* faster.

276:

Let me be blunt: screw you.

When I'm at work, I'm at work. When I'm at home, I'm not. And I read, 25+ years ago, that companies who already had a lot of telecommuting experience wanted people in the office at least 1-2 days a week, not just for meetings, but those water cooler conversation that turn out to be incredibly important.

On a personal note, I'm going to retire next year... and then, ahh, yeah, locked in my house, sitting in front of the computer, not seeing or talking to other human beings... you *really* want people isolated and afraid of each other, yes?

And before you respond, genuinely STOP AND TRY TO PUT YOURSELF IN SOMEONE ELSE'S SHOES.

277:

And calm...

The conversations certainly are important. Not I was advocating staying home every day, just 2-3 days per week.

I completely agree that you need to see people face to face and that it is impossible to keep track of WTF is going on if you spend all the time out of the office, which is why I wasn't suggesting it.

278:

Dunno what happened there. Was supposed to say "I was not...".

279:

Yeah. My ex-employer, which was one of the first in the world to use telecommunications for non-CS purposes, where such 'home working' had been used since the 1970s, and which was completely dependent on wide-area telecommunications, decided to demand (flagrantly against my contract) that ask permission to work from home or take a day off. While my words were politer, my response could have been translated as "go bugger yourself, you and the horse you rode in on". I think that some of the management were glad to see me retire :-)

But the point stands, especially for use as a bad-weather or similar fallback.

Oh, and about hot water, 60 degrees Celsius is the normal 'very hot', and is what we have ours set to. It means that you can have a hot bath or shower even if the cold water is close to freezing.

280:

Re: '... what 140 years on the future looks like for humanity but if history is any kind of guide ...'

An unemployed taxonomist organizes physics based on particle-field relatedness in one sensible chart which immediately illustrates knowledge gaps, identifies where missing new particle and force types should be located thereby advancing this science. (Massive renaming of all particles and fields also ensues - old physics text books are banned/used to start fires and more undergrads take and pass quantum physics courses.)

In a turn-about, an unemployed theoretical physicist adapts Feynman diagrams to easily illustrate/communicate and calculate inputs and outputs of biochemical substances and their reactions across increasingly complex biota up to and including subclasses of ecologies thus developing the first testable 'theory of min/max eco systems'.

The new theories pass their tests and each (still unemployed) scientist picks up a Nobel in his/her adoptive fields, writes a best-seller and does SRO $peaking tour$.

281:

Almost any of the Solonacea are "FUN" in that regard. Edible or poisonous or, most likely both.
Tomato leave ain't good for you & then there's "Kangaroo Apple where the fruits are good & edible - provided they are fully rip.
My big one, out the front, may be alive down at the roots - it really didn't like the latest easterly cold blast with snow...

People who are uninformed panic over "poisonous" plants .. like all the "Buttercups" save one are poisonous ( The exception is/are Nigella sp. - the seeds are used in "Indian" cooking & are "Kalonji" in Hindi. )
Daffodil bulbs are poisonous ....
Etc ad nauseam.

282:

There seems to be a VERY strong correlation between families that contain food plants and ones that have that property. The leguminosae (fabaceae) is another example - don't eat the roots of runner beans or the seeds of the jicama, even cooked.

284:

Re: ' ... uninformed panic over "poisonous" plants'

My favorite is fungi which is estimated to include over 2 million species. Algae seem equally diverse.

'Algae (according to Wikipedia) is an informal term for a large, diverse group of photosynthetic organisms that are not necessarily closely related, and is thus polyphyletic. Included organisms range from unicellular microalgae genera, such as Chlorella and the diatoms, to multicellular forms, such as the giant kelp, a large brown alga which may grow up to 50 m in length.'

285:

Re: Network theory - 'Green Mathematics'

All we need is an SF author/TV or film producer to take this mainstream.

286:

'Actually, that's not a solution.'
Actually it is. I had to drive to work if the weather was bad for cycling because in the 1970s transport in Greater Manchester was bad and getting worse thanks to Thatcherite bus deregulation.
There was no practical public transport between Altrincham and the area of Salford where I worked. Now there's a Metro so there would be an alternative at a price.
There's also a new bridge over the ship canal which would have cut my cycle journey by two miles or so.
One of the reasons for cycling was that the eleven mile journey was about 10 minutes faster by bike.
And relative to one of your your earlier posts the easiest part of the journey was the excellent cycle track through Trafford Park.

287:

Please don't quote out of context to create straw men. Read the rest of what I said. Whether a small minority of the commuters cycle or drive is irrelevant - it fails dismally as soon as cycling is a main form of commuting, for the reasons I gave.

288:

Just an amused note: in the initial post, I mentioned wooden skyscrapers twice (aka plyscrapers). There's muttering about how we need something that sequesters carbon and turns it into buildings, and yet, somehow, this doesn't fit, even though people are building the things.

Hmmm.

289:

The "Mints" Labatiae are good too ... because so many of them are both edible/cooking herbs for flavour AND medicinal in their effects ... overdoses are not a good idea.

290:

Even if you are talking about the macrofungi, with obvious visible fruiting bodies ...
I'm afraid, unless you are a professional myucolgist they fall into 3 simple categories:
1: Cardboard - about 80% of them
2: Edible - about 11% of them
3: Poisonous - about 9% of them .....

291:

bugger
MYCOLOGIST

292:

Not quite, because the poisonous ones aren't all the same. All boreal (that I know of) and most tropical plants are safe to test for edibility using the approved gradual method:

https://goneoutdoors.com/perform-universal-edibility-test-2156033.html

Some groups of fungi can be tested that way, but others will pass it with flying colours and kill you horribly a day or two later.

293:

Just a note: Elderly Cynic's presentation of the universal edibility test is not endorsed by this website or anyone associated with it. It's his personal opinion.

Remember, the only people we hear from with tests like these are the people who survived them. It's unusual for someone to try it, fail, and report. Amanitas are in the latter category because the poisonous ones taste wonderful (by all reports), victims die of liver failure about 5 days after ingestion. However, they do typically start to feel effects within a few hours. The problem with Amanitas (and probably with hemlock) is there's no warning signal, just lethality. With amanitas the probable explanation is that the toxins evolved to kill gnats that would otherwise eat the spores, and their lethality to humans and other life is a byproduct of their more essential need to protect the gills of the mushrooms.

Not sure what hemlock's excuse is, though.

294:

It might be erroneous, certainly.

It's not just the amanitas - there are some other genera that do the same - and some aminitas are edible. While there ARE some safe rules for boreal fungi (I don't know about tropical ones), you still need to know a fair amount to apply them safely (e.g. identify a boletus, reliably).

295:

if you can expect the wind to be strong and unstable enough to make walking and even sometimes standing up difficult

Then clearly the area is uninhabitable. If a fit young cyclist can't walk easily then the little old ladies are going to die just getting the garage door open to drive somewhere. Therefore by the "unless everyone can do it..." rule, no-one can live there.

More seriously, one advantage of low recumbents including trikes is that a knee-high vegetation border will break the wind quite effectively. So it would be possible to build a system of cycleways in a location like that where the gentle curves and surrounding vegetation made cycling even in unusually strong winds quite possible.

But I do question just how inhabitable places like that are. "A few hardy souls" is not generalisable. The number of large cities in such places is likely to be tiny, but I can't think of any. Wellington, New Zealand is notoriously windy but very small as cities go (well under 1M people) and the average wind speed is under 10m/s. Top of the hills, sure, but that's another place we don't see a lot of cities (Incas being the exception that proves the rule).

Wind rose through history: https://www.niwa.co.nz/file/12211
And selectable: https://www.meteoblue.com/en/weather/archive/windrose/wellington_new-zealand_2179537
http://shawnvoyage.com/top-5-windiest-cities-in-the-world/

296:

This article has a lovely photo of a dedicated cycleway in Copenhagen captioned "The “Bicycle Snake” in Copenhagen separates pedestrians and cyclists, allowing both to navigate the city more safely" ... complete with a pedestrian on the cycleway.

https://theconversation.com/cycling-and-walking-are-short-changed-when-it-comes-to-transport-funding-in-australia-92574

I would be fairly simple to make that cycleway useable in strong winds by making the side walls higher and more solid. More of an "enclosed walkway" style, in other words. But Copenhagen is prone to nice weather so they've opted for views over comfort during storms.

297:

For some reason I'm reminded of this novelette by KSR:
http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/history.htm

I would like to think you're right, but there have been many cultures and civilizations in the world that didn't solve their problems and vanished, or mutated into something that would have seemed unimaginable (and not at all desirable) to their members.

298:

Calgary has "high-quality, segregated cycling paths" like the ones pictured for Bogotá. Oddly enough neither cyclists nor pedestrians treat them as separate paths — in effect they are frequently-ignored markings on a wider-than-normal sidewalk.

299:

Frank, feel free to delete this if it derails the thread.

I hate to say this, but you guys are thinking too small, and impractical, when you think of having PV power systems on city roofs. Utilities depend on scale, and easy access to maintain their power generation.

Google Map San Diego CA. Go to "satellite" view, and see how sub-divisions are laid out with no regard to Solar.

- If you are out in the middle of nowhere, PV is great. It is cheaper than trying to run power lines from the local co-op.

- The cost of spreading PV on the roofs of sub-divisions -- in a cost effective way -- makes no sense.

Sorry.

I remember reading decades ago in Popular Science/Mechanics about building Solar updraft towers off shore. To both generate electricity and collect the water vapor for fresh water. Some of the designs I've stumbled across go beyond that idea. They are looking at both rigid concrete chimneys, and fabric.

Solar Chimneys Can Convert Hot Air to Energy, But Is Funding a Mirage?

Floating Solar Chimney Technology - pdf

- They mention "Solar Chimney" that was in the book “Engineer’s Dream” Willy Ley, so the idea has been around for about a century.

This is what they did in Madrid decades ago:

Solar Tower Energy in Spain, Madrid

This is what they want to do in Australia.

Solar Updraft Tower

This one would have a tourist level at the top. HA!

Solar Tower Energy

Wiki - Solar updraft tower

"The solar updraft tower (SUT) is a renewable-energy power plant for generating electricity from low temperature solar heat. Sunshine heats the air beneath a very wide greenhouse-like roofed collector structure surrounding the central base of a very tall chimney tower. The resulting convection causes a hot air updraft in the tower by the chimney effect. This airflow drives wind turbines placed in the chimney updraft or around the chimney base to produce electricity. Plans for scaled-up versions of demonstration models will allow significant power generation, and may allow development of other applications, such as water extraction or distillation, and agriculture or horticulture."

- The links at the bottom of the wiki page have more articles.

BTW, Daniel Suarez in his novel Freedom talks briefly about one version of a Solar chimney, in chapter 6.

In the stuff I have planned, I use the following guidelines for Story purposes:

Basically:

- You treat the Earth as a garden -- i.e., a life support system -- and maintain it as such.

So that means:

- You recycle everything, and do not pollute your own life support system.

Part of doing that is:

- You reforest[1] all of the historically modern deserts -- ie., man made. That ties up vast amounts of carbon in the soil[2].

- You set up sea communities that are based on the way oil rigs are anchored at sea, maintaining fisheries, using the 10% rule[3]. That ties up huge amounts of carbon.

- You use geoengineering[4] to keep the Arctic Ice from melting. If the Arctic Ocean is free of ice, billions die[5].

People are our greatest resource, and too many people seem to be blithely ready to lose billions of people that we need to maintain our life support system.

----

1 - Grow Food forests, not monoculture. The food grown would feed people and animals. Both can be harvested to feed humans or left to create soil[2] using the 10% rule.

2 - There is more carbon in the soil, in a well maintained forest, than in the trees.

3 - You harvest no more than 10% of what you raise. That way you can once again have big fish to catch.

4 - You run a hose up to the stratosphere and spray sulfur dioxide the way Mount Pinatubo did in 1991.

5 - A slight warming can cause the next Ice Age[6]. They have know this since the 50s.

The Coming Ice Age

6 - Focusing on Greenland melting, Antarctica melting, sea levels rising, is a mirage that will get us all killed[7]. When the Arctic Ice is gone, the next Ice Age prevents Greenland and Antarctica from melting. This has happened twice that we know of, six thousand and ten thousand years ago.

Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara

7 - The world routinely tries to kill us. Let's do our best to keep that from happening. HA!

300:

That appears to be absolutely standard.

At the extreme the Sydney Harbour Bridge has one walkway for pedestrians and one for cyclists. It's a loong walk on a narrow cycleway with a decent slope and poor sight lines, but there are still a disturbing number of pedestrians who walk past several "pedestrians use other side of the bridge" signs in order to take their chances. Surprisingly few of them are killed.

I quite like the ~2cm height difference with paint ones, where it really is just a wide path that's kind of slightly technically separated. That works both as recognition that everyone will use the whole path when there's no-one else there, and as a hint to pedestrians about which way they should jump when "holy shit, a bicycle, I never expected that".

301:

And even there ... I got caught out by a bolete that SOME people can eat ...
I knew this one was one of those, possibly but I'd eaten a small one before ... so I eat a small piece ( It was a BIG fruiting body) - perfectly OK - so the next day I eat all of it.
Oh dear, vomiting & the other end & cold sweats & ...
Still, it did some good, as I'd had a badly grumbling unstable gut for some years & that cured it ... whatever nasty bacterium living inside me got cleaned out, with everything else!
OTOH there a things like the "common Roll-Rim" - thought ot be edible for a very long time - now on the poisonous list ... too much of it over time - 7 - anaphylactic shock, somwhere between to 100th & 1000th specimen you eat.
I still don;t understand how anyone can mistake Amanita (anythng) phalloides or virosa for any of the Agaricus species - I mean the clours are reversed.
The bastards are the Chanterelle & the false chanterelle - you do not want to eat the latter.
Lepiotas are fun - the BIG ones are edible & v tasty, the small ones are poisonous.

Every year I collect a lot of yellow Russulas - good in soups, common puff-ball (OINK) & hopefully lots of Boletus badius but the last are tepmeramental bastards, so some years you get lots, some years almost none & one year about 20 kg of the things ...

302:

Well, I agree with you about the roofs, although, oddly enough, the guys who installed my solar panels didn't agree with either of us when I asked them about it. So far as they're concerned, rooftop complexity isn't an insurmountable problem, merely a nuisance. They're the experts...

As for offshore power in San Diego...here's the deal:

The US Marines and US Navy oppose the Trump administration's desire to put more oil wells in the Southern California Bight (between Pt. Conception and the Mexican border), because it will interfere with all their warfighting prep and operations stuff. If they don't even want any more oil wells, I don't think a solar tower is going to be acceptable either, unless we wait 50 years and the marines start mooring their zeppelins to them, or something.

As I noted in the original post, politics matters in this stuff.

303:

Yeah, but the bolete give you D&V, at worst - not a big deal. Actually, I don't think the false chanterelle is any worse. It's the ones where you have catastrophic organ damage by the time the first symptoms appear that are the real killers (literally), and the reason that people eat the amanitas is that they pick them as 'button mushrooms'. There are some others that are hard to tell from edible species, too.

304:

Yes, in that case your idea works. You're drawing cool (mains) water then dumping it. In the sewers, or you may be able to dump it into the stormwater system. I'd be cautious about putting it on the garden or into a swimming pool (if you get the pool over blood temperature it's not nice to swim in, especially in the summer).

I want a cooling loop operating more like that in an automobile. A heat exchanger transfers some of that heat into a pre-heat tank for the household hot water system. The coolant then passes through a radiator or cooling tower to further reduce the temperature before being cycled back through the PV panel's cooling tubes. In summer, dump that waste heat back outside. In winter, it can be used for additional heat in your living quarters.

But the coolant from the PV collectors doesn't mix with the household water system. Some of the heat is used to pre-heat household hot water, while the rest vents back to the atmosphere. It's just moved around a little before it does so.

Because you will need thousands of litres of water and the marginal gain from cooling is likely to be low. This is where "how many tonnes do you have on your roof" becomes a problem. To be efficient you need a thermosyphon, but that means the cold tank has to be above the heat source.

You're thinking in terms of one pass and out. You don't do that when cooling an automobile engine. You don't do that with air-conditioning ... Why would you want to do that trying to cool PV panels? You want a system where you make up the coolant loss, not one where you completely replace the coolant every cycle.

You need a couple hundred gallons at most.

I think cooling an automobile engine is a good analogy. When you're driving along, what happens to the heat?

Most of it gets dumped into the atmosphere through the radiator. But, in the winter a little bit of it gets passed through a heat exchanger to provide cabin heat & to help defrost the windshield.

My little Ford even has tubes behind the dash that carry some of the hot air from the cabin heater into the door and out into the outside mirrors to keep them clear. But the heat is just a by-product of cooling the engine to it's most efficient operating temperature.

As soon as you add a pump you're burning electricity to move water, so you're at best going to reduce the marginal benefit of cooling. In practice I fear you're going to negate most of the gain and pay quite a lot to do it.

You only need to pump coolant when the PV panels are producing power. Let some of the electricity from panels drive the pump.

You're saying that because you can't get more than a tiny improvement, it's not worth trying to get any improvement.

I say "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". Even a tiny contribution to reducing your carbon footprint helps, even if only a tiny bit.

305:

Re: '... how sub-divisions are laid out with no regard to Solar.'

Some of this may be due to 5, 10 and 20-year regional/municipal strategic planning commissions* where subdivisions are decided upon (approved) before PV tech became available. Often, the types of buildings zoned for those areas are similarly pre-planned/approved in general terms such as overall style, construction materials, density, purpose, etc.

* Not a thing in parts of Texas where anything goes.

306:

Sorry, just to be clear: that's a follow up to the "can heat 200 litres of water to 90 degrees by 10am" problem that I mentioned in my previous post. Even if you only need 1000-2000 litres of water in your pre-heat tank, that's a lot of water, and you really want to cool it down overnight... at a time when you're also trying to cool your house ready for the next day. So you don't want the preheat tank near the house.

Why would I need to pre-heat 2000 liters of water for a hot water heater that only holds 190 liters? (50US gal lqd = 189.2706L)?

307:

Sounds like these humanure systems have got the pathogens part fairly well taken care of. But how do these systems handle the various pharmaceuticals and their metabolites? I've read that amount of caffeine and birth control hormones is pretty significant in city wastewater. What will all this other stuff do when concentrated even more?

Don't municipal waste systems handle it by heating the solids to break down the chemicals? This is just a guess, but I looked into a composting toilet system and I believe the composting generated heat that it should break down that stuff.

308:

How about if you can expect the wind to be strong and unstable enough to make walking and even sometimes standing up difficult? We can get whole weeks of this sort of weather in some places.

Probably want to find an alternative means of transport in those places & leave the cycling to places where it can make a more substantial contribution.

309:

JBS, did you read any of the links I posted? They're doing exactly what you want to do, only they have actually built systems. It hasn't been commercially viable. The hobby level people make it work, but barring a "black swan" it's not profitable (resources or money, neither work).

Why would I need to pre-heat 2000 liters of water

That's exactly my objection. You have a system that *will* heat 2000 litres of water by 20+ degrees every day, and I'm saying "what will you do with all that hot water?".

Sure, in the UK if you take that water from the mains it'll arrive at 10 degrees so you might only end up with 1000 litres of 50 degree water at the end of the day, but now you've decided you don't want to do that. Instead you're likely to have 2000 litres of water at 50 degrees, you cool it overnight, then next day repeat. Saying "I'll only have 200 litres" means you cool less - either for less time or by a smaller amount. Your tank holds a certain amount of "coolth" and once it's gone, it's gone.

The solution is to run a heat pump off the output so you get value from that side too. A lot of other people have had this idea too, and the reason they haven't managed to produce a commercially viable product isn't lack of trying or getting the physics wrong. That's why I linked to some of them, so you could read about that if you wanted to. Instead you keep coming back to me to repeat what I've already said, but phrasing it as "you haven't thought of this".

310:

Let's think of it from the other side. Imagine you have a PV system that puts out 20kWh/day (so maybe 10kW of panels on a normal roof in England, 3-4kW where I live). At 20% efficiency that means 100kWh hits the panels, 20% comes out as electricity, and guess that half heats the panels.

Water has a specific heat of about 4 J / g.K, and 50kWh is 50,000 * 3600 = 180MJ, so we get 45MKg of heating. To make the maths easier, let's heat our tank by 45 degrees, we get 1Mg of hot water... that's 1000kg or 1000 litres.

I can't see anywhere in there that you could slip an order of magnitude correction in. The only option would be a dramatically smaller PV system (or shade a larger one, like they do with hot water collectors in the summer).

311:

I'm sorry, I came to a full stop. Now, I'm assuming that you're talking in Celsius degrees.

It was in response to _moz. His numbers didn't make sense as degrees F, so I replied in degrees C. It's quick & easy to find a converter on the internet. I use degrees F here at home.

There is NO REASON AT ALL to want hot water at 80C, unless you're making coffee. A hot tub at 46C is *too* *freakin'* *hot*. I'll wager that when you take a shower, it's not over 41C.

I don't have a hot tub. I keep my domestic hot water heater set to between 60°C and 71°C (that's 140°F to 160°F). Cold water coming out of the tap here is 10°C (50°F) at this time of the year. When I shower, I mix hot & cold water to obtain a comfortable temperature.

So, saying that you want to keep your PV panels no higher than 50, if your water is over that, you need to circulate the water a *lot* faster.

_moz_@224

“The problem is that you're trying to do two completely different things at the same time: keep the silicon cool while getting the water hot. You ideally want the PV part under 50 degrees and the hot water over 80. Thermally linking the two makes that tricky.”

I was responding to the claim that I was trying to do two mutually exclusive things. I proposed to do one thing and use that thing to assist with another. I suggest cooling the PV panels to an efficient temperature, "ideally ... under 50 degrees" (per _moz_).

To accomplish that, I suggest using a heat exchanger to bring the coolant temperature DOWN by pre-heating water for the domestic hot water heater. The coolant won't get hot enough to provide domestic hot water, but it CAN help reduce the energy needed to produce domestic hot water.

Visualize this ...
Coolant temp at the inlet to the PV panel coils 25°C
Coolant temp at the outlet 45°C ... sucks 20°C out of the PV panels
Coolant temp at the inlet to the heat exchanger 45°C;Domestic water temp at pre-heat tank inlet 10°C
Coolant temp at heat exchanger outlet 25°C;Domestic water temp at pre-heat tank outlet 30°C ...
Transfer the 20°C removed from the PV system to the domestic hot water system.

The coolant from the PV panels doesn't mix with the pre-heat tank water that goes into the domestic hot water heater and it's not enough to actually heat domestic hot water ... but it can help reduce the energy cost of producing domestic hot water.

The numbers are all hypothetical. It won't work exactly that way, because that would require 100% efficiency from every component of the system and I realize that's not possible. Plus, I don't have the funds to invest in a PV system right now - water cooled or otherwise. I'm currently pursuing other means for increasing my energy efficiency here at home. I do what I can NOW while I think about what I might be able to do later.

312:

Actually there are many many cultures that had problems and then were conquered / subsumed by other cultures that had less problems. That’s actually one of the prime ways cultures deal with their issues, get taken over by someone else who for whatever reason is better able to deal with the issue

There are remarkably few examples of cultures outright collapsing. Most of those very few examples are covered in Jarod Diamonds “collapse”. They had some remarkably common traits
- very small
- very isolated
- very difficult for them to relocate

313:

JBS, did you read any of the links I posted? They're doing exactly what you want to do, only they have actually built systems. It hasn't been commercially viable. The hobby level people make it work, but barring a "black swan" it's not profitable (resources or money, neither work).

Some of them. Obviously, YOU have not read what I wrote. Just because you can't make a profit from it doesn't mean something is not worth doing.

Why would I need to pre-heat 2000 liters of water

That's exactly my objection. You have a system that *will* heat 2000 litres of water by 20+ degrees every day, and I'm saying "what will you do with all that hot water?".

NO, I have a *system* that will heat 200 liters of water every MONTH. Why can't you accept that I don't need to heat 2000 liters of water, so I'm not going to build a system to heat 2000 liters of water. You may be that stupid and wasteful, I am not.

Why can't you understand the concept of recirculating coolant; drawing off the heat that's wanted, using it to do something useful and radiating the rest of the waste heat away in a different location?

...

The solution is to run ...

That's YOUR solution. For you there's no solution unless you can see a way to make a profit from it. Some of us care more about the environment than about profit.

314:

I can only speculate on the rarity of hybrid minivans in the US market, possibly cost of certification. Ford has displayed hybrid minivan prototypes, I expect one for sale soon, possibly Honda & Toyota are waiting until they can release one with more electric range, rather than adapting a small battery into an existing design.

315:

NO, I have a *system* that will heat 200 liters of water every MONTH.

OK, when you said "Water cooled PV panels that make both electricity AND pre-heat the hot water tank" I thought you meant house-scale or industrial-scale, not the little ones on a solar powered toy.

Sorry for the confusion.

316:

Just because you can't make a profit from it doesn't mean something is not worth doing.

Of course not. Elon Musk thought it was worth launching a car into space, for example, and Rod Stewart builds model train dioramas. I have hobbies too, and they're only useful as a way of keeping me off the streets.

When I thought your goal was "use renewable energy more effectively" I found your suggestion confusing. But in the context of, say, keeping a fish tank warm by building a thing it makes more sense. Presumably you have fish and like building things.

It's kinda like the guys spraying water on their household size PV systems - that pushes their Wh/kW/day up on PVOutput, and that's what they care about.

317:

The biggest Toyota Hybrids are the Rav-4 and the Highlander... big SUVs at the most. They did have a hybrid version of the Sienna, but only in Japan. Honda and Nissan don't have much either. I wonder if there are scaling problems?

Chrysler has a minivan, but it's an American car. I don't know how good the build quality is.

318:

Frank Landis @302 said: As for offshore power in San Diego...here's the deal:

I had to do a double take when I read your comment. My mention about "off shore" was based on what I read in Popular Science/Mechanics decades ago. You might want to actually look at the stuff I posted, especially the video about the Solar Tower Energy in Spain, Madrid, that they did decades ago.

"Back in 1982, with German government funding, SBP built and ran a small, experimental 50-kilowatt solar updraft plant in the south of Spain. It consisted of a 195-meter (640-foot) tower, fashioned from corrugated steel, and a canopy 244 meters (800 feet) in diameter."

From the National Geographic article:

"The main advantage of solar updraft over PV panels, Cottam said, is "it overcomes the intermittency of solar power." It doesn't need sunlight to operate, just warm air, so it continues to churn out power after sundown. That's because the energy that's absorbed by the land when the sun is shining keeps the air in the collector warm enough at night to keep the turbines spinning."

You guys are talking about PV on houses that only work during the day, and I'm talking "Solar updraft towers" in the 200-megawatt range that you can build out in the desert that works 24/7.

- People are actually trying to build this stuff in concrete.

Then there is the guy trying to build the tower out of fabric, cutting the cost of the tower by 90%.

- I'd say the concept of a "fabric tower" is the definition of Solarpunk.

But if you're not interested in real Solar power, that works 24/7, Oh, well. My post isn't wasted, I found a ton of information to go into my Story folders for my own stuff. I found Gold. HA!

I'll get back to writing my own stuff now. I have books to finish.

Thanks...

319:

Goodness of design doesn't matter. We're a military town, and the military (and the FAA) have big says in where stuff gets built, how tall certain buildings are, and so forth. For example, you can't build wind turbines too high in many places, because once the rotors reach to the airspace covered by military radar, the military decrees that they can't be built higher, because the rotors cause a really annoying strobe on radar screens that makes everything else invisible. So the turbines don't go that high. Period.

Or there is the case where a building lost its top floor because it was too close to a flight path (the builder thought he could ignore the FAA's demands and built it anyway. He was expensively wrong). Or there's another case where a power plant wasn't built in part because the updraft from the stacks blew turbulent hot air into the takeoff path of F-18s.

Out in the ocean, the Navy controls two of the Channel Islands and is busily removing UXB from a third island. They do a lot of their prep immediately off our coast.

So no, I don't think tall towers are going to (literally) fly off San Diego, at least until the military leaves. Whether there will be any town here once the military leaves is one of those interesting questions.

320:

https://theconversation.com/we-need-to-rethink-our-moral-obligations-to-create-a-better-world-93286

The paradox of collective action
The paradox of collective action is that while none of us can individually make a difference to the overall outcome, together we can. And while no individual’s failure to act will undermine the success of the collective effort, if too many people continue with business as usual we will not make a change for the better.

So why change your behaviour if it doesn’t make much difference for better or worse? Understanding how we might have obligations for collective problems will mean we need to rethink some of our common assumptions and intuitively held views about morality.

I found that interesting in the boring "reinforces what I already think" sense.

321:

Flase Chanterelle
can & does give you organ damage - that's the problem.
And, unlike Agaricuc : Amanita the differences are a little more subtle ....

Chantrerelle
False Chanterelle
It's in the gills or apparent gills & requires close examination.

322:

Also, what problem are "white roads" supposed to solve? I'm not very bright, but I do know that re-radiated insolation tends from the visible to the infra-red spectrum irrespective of the visible colour of the surface it lands on.

There's a key distinction between reflected radiation and absorbed-and-reradiated radiation which you're mixing up here. A white surface will reflect most incoming sunlight (which is primarily visible light) back out into space (because the atmosphere is transparent to visible light). A dark surface will absorb more of the incoming sunlight and heat up. In both cases, the surfaces will radiate in the infrared[*] (which will tend to be absorbed the atmosphere, contributing to its heating) -- but since the dark surface has absorbed more energy and gotten hotter, it will radiate more IR radiation. A hotter surface will also transfer some heat to the air right next to it by conduction, which probably helps contribute to local "urban heat island" effects.

[*] Because they're not at liquid helium temperatures.

323:

Re: '"Solar updraft towers" in the 200-megawatt range that you can build out in the desert that works 24/7.'

This sounds exactly like what the Saudis would build. In fact, one of BIG's Saudi urban high-rise projects incorporates the management of otherwise unregulated (passive?) environmental airflow and solar in order to reduce their buildings' energy demands. BTW, in 2017, the Saudis announced a $500 billion plan to build a mega city powered by renewables only.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/saudi-arabia-is-going-to-build-a-500-billion-mega-city

I've mentioned this outfit before ... BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) - IMO, so far they've the most interesting 21st environment-and-human friendly designs I've seen with many large scale high visibility projects underway. Hope they can pull them all off.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bjarke_Ingels_Group


324:

Unholyguy noted: "Victorian London is actually a great example. Regardless of how severe the physical problems were at the time and how much they struggled to deal with them, 140 years later none of those things are a problem anymore."

Indeed, for the hundreds of thousands who died of pollution-related problems, cholera, bad food and water, pneumonia, TB, poor nutrition, etc., the problems were solved quite quickly -- literally within a lifetime. Oh, and perhaps you forgot the child mortality rate of about 15% if memory serves (values vary, particularly if you change the age definition, but they're all double-digits). But children aren't important, right? Survival of the fittest? The problem with your kind of intellectual masturbation is that it invites inaction, and inaction has heavy costs in terms of collateral damage. But who cares, right? You'll be dead by the time those pigeons come home to roost.

Re. Frank's comment about wooden skyscrapers: Way back in forestry school, I wrote a paper for one course on whether you could build wooden spaceships, as much as anything else because I wanted to see the teacher's face. Short summary (this was nearly 40 years ago, so details are vague): apart from a problem with brittleness ("brashness", which could probably be reduced using low-lignin genotypes), wood is actually a feasible solution, though one with unique engineering challenges. An additional benefit is that, because wood is a CHO compound, you can break it down to create oxygen and water should you need to replace lost atmosphere. Need to unearth that paper and use it to write an Analog story some day...

More practically speaking, large pieces of wood are a better engineering solution than steel because they retain most of their strength in a fire, whereas steel loses strength rapidly as it heats. With thick wood, a fire creates a layer of char on the outside that can extinguish the fire and prevent further combustion of the wood -- though with a really intense fire, pyrolysis is still possible. My former employer hired consulting engineers to prove that such wood was safe when they created their former headquarters; they needed to get an exception granted to local bylaws, which prohibited commercial wood structures.

325:

Wood is also much better than steel-framed buildings in earthquake zones - though it isn't the steel that is the problem - it's because it is JUST a frame, and it's the concrete or brick that is also used comes crashing down. That can be solved by using plastic - oops, fire risk, including toxic, black smoke. Wood also has a much better strength and stiffness to weight ratio than steel, or and the best wood is much better than anything else before modern carbon-fibre composites.

The problem in many places is rot and insects.

326:

I'll give you one very serious negative for low recumbents: it's the same problem the bikers (that is, motorcyclists) have, in spades: drivers DO NOT SEE you. And when they're texting.....

327:

That is often claimed, but there is a lot of evidence that it is completely wrong; they are at least as visible (and noticed at least as well) as dogs, small children and other such road users. However, that's not the real issue, which is related to your latter (true) point. As I said, to make this viable, we need a social, political and (to a minor extent) legal revolution in the use of the roads. We're goint to get one, anyway (see the next blog entry), but the question is whether it will make things worse or better; my deleted post was trying to explain why I expect the latter.

328:

Personally, I like the concept of sequestering wood in buildings, although I agree that it's going to be hard to keep many of them around for a century or two.

There are even new engineered wood products that, if they can be commercialized, could be stronger than steel or insulation

However...

If you want to really start grinning, combine the idea of highly engineered wood structures with the possible use of molded fungi as blocks that are stronger than concrete (again, if the process can be scaled up and commercialized, and you've got a winner. Or...

Well, actually you've got a really interesting situation, because the fungi they're playing with are things like oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus) and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum (above). These are both well-known wood-rotters, and oyster mushrooms have been used (IIRC from Mycelia Running) to degrade all sorts of organic contaminants, which might include whatever chemicals you're using to protect that engineered wood structure.

Or not. After all, we put water pipes next to steel beams and don't expect thee beams to instantly rust away. It's ultimately a matter of good building practices and sanitation. Someone who doesn't properly dry his mycelial bricks won't just build a weakened wall, if he leaves the mycelia alive, they might rot the building out.

And I won't even get into the allergy issues that some people have. It's just another version of sick building syndrome, after all.

The caveat here is that all the magic wood and magic mushroom materials here have yet to leave the lab bench or architects' studio. While there's potential to use these, there are a lot of hurdles with them, both commercial (scaling up production) and political. Getting people to buy into wooden skyscrapers with fungal brick cladding will be a challenge bigger than getting conservative San Diegans to buy into "toilet to tap" water recycling. Disgust and fear are major driving forces for conservatism, after all.

But maybe it could be done. In a novel, say, that inspired some builders...

329:

It depends on where you are. There are plenty of wooden buildings in Europe that predate Columbus. But it does need to be done and maintained right, and it's hopeless in some parts of the world. I doubt that you would have much difficulty, though.

330:

Speaking of sequestering carbon in buildings, there's also the growing field (pun not intended) of using straw bales as insulation, sandwiched between thin layers of another substance to provide structural strength. Don't know details, other than that it seems to work under a range of climates (including for some friends in a rainy region of Australia). As Frank notes, construction requires good "hygiene" to separate things that should not be allowed to come together.

331:

I've seen some really nice straw bale homes around here, and were I building my own place, I'd seriously think about it. Of course, I'd also seriously think about an earthship, rammed earth, cob, earthbags...

Here's the positive and negative.

The positive is that straw is thought to be less flammable than timber frame building with sheetrock, because there's less airspace in the walls for the fire to propagate through. Yes, straws ignite more easily than does wood, but tightly packed straw is thought to be less ignitable. It's also cheaper, lasts probably as long, sequesters carbon (dead grass) that would ordinarily be lost to the atmosphere, has serious eco-cool cred, insulates the building...

One downside is that here in earthquake country, local codes require you to also have a wood frame holding up your roof. It's not clear (to me at least) that the frame is necessary, but the people doing the permitting seem to think it is. Various kinds of rot and termites might become a serious problem, especially if the straw gets wet. Speaking of which:

The other downside is that the bales are generally covered by adobe, which means you've got all the problems of adobe to deal with. To simplify, you've got to have a good roof with wide eaves that protect the walls, or the rain will start dissolving them. And wet straw is much more digestible to bugs and fungi.

Getting back to SF literature, one of my favorite solar punkish things is simply the good design aspect of all these products. Of course, I favor craftsmanship over commercial manufacture, and one of the big attractions to all these alternative materials is that they're cost effective because they're well-designed using generally cheap materials.

Most commercial buildings seem to be the opposite. Seeing the copycat nature of most developments, my assumption is that architectural design is expensive on a per hour basis, so they tend to mass produce a few designs, focus on eye candy to sell the buildings, and use things like HVAC to make up for inefficiencies caused by the designs not fitting the location. Successful solar developments need to figure out how to mass customize homes so that they can all catch the sun without each home being individually designed. That's harder than it looks in subdivisions, because they tend to want the streets to be curved, not aligned in grids.

Additionally, things like earthships are cost-competitive because they use waste products (in that case tires) for construction material. I don't think everyone can build an earthship, simply because we'd run out of used tires too fast, although that's not a problem at the moment. Ditto with straw bales, unless something puts the cattle industry out of business, or we come up with an industry that sequesters greenwaste on hay fields and sends they hay into building construction(hint to CalRecycle...) . Even rammed earth only works if the soil is suitable, meaning there's enough clay and not too many rocks. In sandy areas, you can pound sand down a hole all day and not have a usable wall at the end of it.

Still, getting back to SF again, maybe the smart building of the future won't be (just) something that's hooked up to the Internet of Things (however long that abomination lasts). Maybe, instead, it will be built by someone using AI to cheaply make buildings as efficient and sustainable as possible, by say:
--allowing the architect to see things like sun exposure and solar generation on the fly (amazingly enough, most of them don't seem to understand this),
--telling landscape architects where to NOT plant their tall trees to block panels (the landscape architects don't talk to the homebuilders, generally with annoying results),
--giving a builder a quick understanding of what the soil engineer's report means in terms of using the site for rammed earth, geothermal, etc. (they don't normally bother),
--providing futures prices and forecasts in the hay or scrap tire markets, so that builders can see if they have sufficient sources to meet their design requirements,
--using genetic algorithms to figure out new engineered wood products and to design production facilities to scale up current discoveries.

All of that is rather more interesting than having a megacorp spying on me through an always-on microphone, which seems to be where the current idea of a smart home seems to be stuck.

Now some architect is going to chime up and say that all these programs exist already, to which I'll respond: "if they exist, why the eff aren't they being used in all these stupid developments I'm reading the EIRs on?"

Speaking of which, I've got to get back to reading another fucking EIR on another cookie cutter profit maximization project. Still, it's been fun daydreaming.

332:

Straw bale houses happen in the UK, and it doesn't seem to be too much of a problem stopping it all going soggy. I think the main thing is spacing the (wooden) outer cladding off from the straw, so any moisture that does get through the cladding doesn't get into the straw, and air can circulate through the gap to prevent any accumulation.

I would have thought rammed earth was a very bad idea in California, for the same reason that it was a very bad idea in Agadir in 1962.

333:

I think the thing here is that there are several different possible values of "noticed", and the evidence you refer to doesn't necessarily relate to the particular values that encompass "...and do not then collide".

334:

Good point about earthquakes, but they do build with rammed earth here, at least occasionally. Similarly, people freaked out about earthbags, until they built an earthbag structure on a shake plate and demonstrated that it was good enough.

As for straw bale, that makes sense for the UK. Here they put the straw right up to the wall, I think to prevent fire spreading. Different places have different needs.

335:

“But children aren't important, right? Survival of the fittest? The problem with your kind of intellectual masturbation is that it invites inaction, and inaction has heavy costs in terms of collateral damage. But who cares, right? You'll be dead by the time those pigeons come home to roost.”

That’s not at all what I am trying to convey. Those problems got solved because people worked really hard at solving them and some of the obstacles to solving them turned out to be less intractable them originally thought

Black swans don’t just happen randomly, especially the human generated ones they usually happed after a lot of really hard work. We also tend to call things “breakthroughs” because it feels like you are pushing against a solid wall and then suddenly a piece of the ways gives

It’s important not to give up before you try because it seems impossible, it’s also important to try many different avenues

336:

Um, I think you're missing the essential concept of what a black swan is:
--It's unpredictable in advance.
--It has an outsized impact.
--While it can be explained in retrospect, that explanation can't be used in turn to predict the occurrence of future black swans. Or, more often, there are multiple, conflicting explanations, none of which have predictive value.

So no, black swans don't happen after a lot of hard work. Nuclear weapons were a black swan only when someone realized that splitting an atom released a huge amount of energy that could be turned into an explosion. The US developing the first atom bomb was fairly predictable after that, and not a black swan. The Japanese were surprised by the Hiroshima attack, but they knew what they'd been hit by as soon as scientists got to Hiroshima, because they'd started research towards an atomic bomb, only to abandon it due to lack of resources. If this doesn't make sense, look at Yamamoto's advice about why Imperial Japan should have negotiated a ceasefire after Pearl Harbor, rather than continuing the war until the US could gear up its industrial might and crush the Japanese.

I won't say black swans happen randomly either. Royal flushes happen randomly in card games, but over time you can calculate the odds and predict on average how many flushes will happen in a given number of games. Black swans are unpredictable by nature. An asteroid strike would be a black swan, simply because we have so few data points that we have no idea what the distribution curve of such events is, so we can't predict their occurrence even statistically. The identity of the richest person in the world is not predictable at that person's birth. We can, by definition, know that there will be *a* richest person in the world (there has to be), but way such people rise to those positions is unpredictable. Looking at Oprah Winfrey as a little girl, would you predict that she would be the third richest woman in the US in 2017?

"The collapse of global civilization" (fallaciously assuming this is an event, not a process) is unpredictable. We know it will happen someday, simply because no human group has survived indefinitely over the 300,000 years of modern human existence. However, we don't know when that collapse will happen or why. If we do everything we can to stop it, all this means is that the cause of the collapse will be something (like an asteroid strike or Azathoth stopping by for a cuppa) that we didn't predict.

337:

I'll give you one very serious negative for low recumbents: it's the same problem the bikers (that is, motorcyclists) have, in spades: drivers DO NOT SEE you. And when they're texting...

Very much so. Which is why I suggested them for use on motorist-free dedicated cycle paths. When I was commuting 28-35km each way (depending on route) the dedicated path along the river was great, the residential back streets were mostly ok, but the couple of sections of major road were often terrifying. Although I did get to pull of next to a very low convertible once and say "you should put a flag on the back so people can see you down there" :)

I've been impressed by drivers not seeing some of my bikes, but I have also found that big solid lumps of brightly coloured plastic make me much more visible. The velomobile and the shopping bike are rarely overlooked. There are still arseholes who make eye contact then say "I'm bigger, I have right of way", so I still have to ride defensively.

338:

I would have thought rammed earth was a very bad idea in California, for the same reason that it was a very bad idea in Agadir in 1962.

Cob houses seem to have survived the Christchurch quakes ok. Some of them are quite old and in the most-affected parts of the city.

Cob is more a mud-straw brick than rammed earth, but I suspect it behaves much the same in a quake.

In order to be more than 100 years old in that city they have to have survived two 7+ quakes...

339:

sequestering wood in buildings, although I agree that it's going to be hard to keep many of them around for a century or two.

I'm not convinced by that timescale, I think 500 years is a more reasonable upper limit. Sure, if you build from softwood with the intention of knocking it down in 20-50 years it's unlikely to last 100, but not everyone does that. The UK has a significant number of older wooden buildings that are still in use, and the popular pastime of converting old barns into houses relies entirely on the existence of said old wooden buildings :)

These days decent hardwood for the frames is hard to come by because there's been an interruption to the long-term planning required to maintain it. First they enclosed the public woods, then they sold them and strip-mined them for profit. Much as the plantations and orchards of the US were removed to plant houses and feed cattle.

But that's where moderns are actively working to solve the problems. On the one hand by making composite materials than can be used instead of hardwood (glue-lam beams, OSB sheets etc) while the GE kids are busy playing with trees to make both very fast growing softwoods (15 year cycles are too long!) and slower growing trees that can be used to make stronger structural members. Plus the chemistry types working to turn "mere wood" into space-age products by dissolving various bits out (resilient aerogel insulators etc).

340:

They absolutely do happen as a result of human effort Frank they just happen in unpredictable ways

Fission bombs are a good example. No one knew they would work, or that they would have the kind of impact they had. Many many other similar super weapons projects went nowhere, some of which looked more promising . But fission bombs didn’t happen by magic or random chance either. They happened because a whole lot of people were working very hard on a whole lot of superweapon projects and one of them hit pay dirt

Hopefully global warming will be simalar, of all the crazy shit we try over the next few decades hopefully one of those will deliver beyond our current wildest dreams. No guarantee of that but also no certainty it won’t happen even though things might look grim today.

With regards to your statement around predicting royal flushes, the way you are framing it illustrates a misunderstanding of probability

With regards to human civs collapsing you are mixing metaphors. Yes the chance of any one tribe/society/nation changing/ collapsing is high but the odds of them all collapsing at once is low to the place but where it has never happened (which is what you you would need to actually have humanity as a whole regress significantly )

341:

There are still arseholes who make eye contact then say "I'm bigger, I have right of way", so I still have to ride defensively.

That happens when you're in a car too. Around here, Hummers and BMW SUVs seem particularly likely to play dominance games with other vehicles. Hummers aren't that common, so that might be just a small data sample, but the BMWs make up half of the vehicles that do that to me — and while they are common they are much less than half the drivers.

342:

I'd strongly suggest reading Taleb's book. You've redefined the black swan concept for your own purposes, and that doesn't lead to good communication. You might also be interested in Taleb's book Fooled by Randomness, which is where I think you are at the moment.

Sorry to be harsh, but there's a difference between random and black swan.

There's also an accepted terminology of gray swans and white swans for differing degrees of predictability. Gray swans are somewhat predictable, white swans are predictable. Royal flushes are white swans, because they occur on average once in every 649,739 hands. That doesn't mean that you're going to get one every 649,739 hands (per wikipedia), but it isn't unpredictable, and when it happens, there's a small and fixed set of explanations for why it happened.

If people are working towards a goal, achievement of that goal isn't a black swan, because they predicted it would happen. Failure to achieve it might be a black swan, if the reason they failed was totally unobvious.

With regard to global warming, it's a deterministic process on the global level that was first described in 1896. The uncertainty arises when you try to go from the global mean temperature averaged over a several years (which can be modeled quite accurately with that single 1896 equation) to modeling climate in a cell less than a few hundred kilometers on a side over less than a month, which IIRC is about the limit of resolution of the computer models at present. That level of complexity brings in uncertainties, which is why studies now usually run ensembles of many models, and report the results that are consistent across models with many different assumptions.

343:

it's the same problem the bikers (that is, motorcyclists) have, in spades: drivers DO NOT SEE you

Based on watching YouTube dashcam and helmet video compilations, it appears that bikers also have trouble seeing each other. I've seen many videos of a motorbike (or scooter) turning left in front of another motorbike (or scooter) and getting hit — and similar events.

(The hit-and-runs on pedestrians at marked crosswalks are mostly bikers, FWIW. Mostly Russian, occasionally Chinese.)

344:

> BMW

Yes, here in this part of the US BMWs also stand out for dominance-game behavior. Not all or even most of them, but when a car is being driven in such a way, it's likely to be a Beemer.

345:

I’ve been reading taleb since way before black swan came out

You are right though I am differing in the definition on fission bombs from you since the result was not entirely impossible to forsee

Your definition seems to be more stringent then is commonly used though so perhaps you are anchoring on an earlier, more stringent one

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory

“The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight”

However the general process of drawing royal flushes is no kind of swan

The number of draws that actually occurs could well be a black swan by the definition above, if it deviated marketadly from the norm

For example if I hit it on the first draw of the first hand, that is probably improbably enough to qualify. Similarity if I never had anyone drawing royal flushes at all, the probability of the event goes to zero so human involvement is required to produce that particular type of swan

346:

It's more that you have to have the bales a proper distance off the ground so they don't rot from the bottom up, and put the correct layers of plaster onto the outside and inside of the bales so they are fairly watertight but can breath slowly, thus not building up moisture inside them. I've been reading enough about straw bale houses recently to see that it works okay, as long as you build it right in the first place and do maintenance, like any other house.
There's even one engineer guy who built his own with a wooden frame and then platered the straw bales as usual, but hung tiles on the outside, so that it breathes but driven rain can't get into the bales. He lives in Cumbria, which is quite a wet place.

347:

Also just to return the snark, the fact that you think you can accurately predict when a royal flush is going to be drawn is exactly Talebs whole point

Because card drawing exists on a normal distribution humans tend to discount the chances that a very abnormal event would actually occur. Like hitting right off the bat. Or never hitting it after fifty million tries

None of these things are impossible however we tend to utterly discontent them especially when we fail to consider that many many such events are happening all the time

You also can’t know anything without knowing how many people are drawing

348:

Here is the exact quote from the actual book Black Swan

“What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes.

First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme 'impact'. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”

349:

Now some architect is going to chime up and say that all these programs exist already, to which I'll respond: "if they exist, why the eff aren't they being used in all these stupid developments I'm reading the EIRs on?"

The two main reasons I see are profit and fear of being different. A disturbing amount of architectural and engineering work is being done in Australia to make full-block, black, eaveless mcmansions more environmentally friendly because those are apparently what people want. People feel comfortable buying those because that's what everyone else has. Then they can get together and complain about energy prices and how they're paying $1000/mo to keep their house warm/cool/upright.

At the same time... there's interesting work being done on financial literacy showing that people often make bad decisions that are the best they can with the knowledge they have for the situation that they're in. I suspect the same goes for houses.

Viz, if the options for new houses are varying degrees of mcmansion, "people choose mcmansions" conveys the same information as "people buy new houses". But we could also generate demand for better houses by providing better information.

Which is what the various "green star" programs are trying to do, but they suffer from apparently terminal regulatory capture. Specifically, the activists and academics who think they're a good idea struggle to afford the ears of politicians, while the profits from shoddy houses allow ample room for the circular favour-exchanging that constitutes Australian democracy.

That's not the only thing that's being done, but it is the one most likely to have a large affect soon (in housing terms, where a generation is about 50 years, so generational change will take until 2070 or so to have real effect).

Smaller things like educating people looking at new houses also happen, and there are the omnipresent "counterculture" people who build weird stuff like strawbale and mud houses (like primitive savages used to live in!) The story of Mataatua is interesting in that regard, apparently it worked quite well in the land of the Engs despite what was done to it. It's a wooden house or hall about 200 years old that's pretty comfortable inside anywhere from the south of NZ to Sydney, and likely in even hotter climtes.

350:

So fission bombs weren't a black swan, but fusion ones might have been? And arguably practical (terrestrial) fusion power would be, since we've had so many breakthroughs and dramatic advances after huge amounts of research that if it started working it'd be closer to a statue coming to life than yet another software project running over time and budget.

I do like to remind people that fusion power is completely practical and is already the cheapest way to generate electricity. You just stick some PV panels 8 light minutes from the fusing material :)

351:

Well if some kid builds a working fusion reactor in his back yard tomorrow or some odd ball thing like cold fusion comes along those would certainly be black swan s because no one expects that and it’s a pretty huge impact

What is going on now with solar is pretty close as well, no one saw that coming

352:

What is going on now with solar is pretty close as well, no one saw that coming

Which bit?

To me everything from the financial dominance to the trade war is entirely predictable and for the former there are graphs going back to the late 1980's produced by people trying to work out when exactly PV would become cheaper than anything else. Finding the old ones is almost impossible now because of all the people showing how solar is cheaper right now. I can probably dig out graphs from www.ata.org.au archives if you're really keen.

Back when I was at university they were teaching us about the joy of balancing hydro with solar and how that would allow us to grow electricity usage without more dams (the idea of burning coal and oil was regarded as a foolish waste of money - this was not long after the 1970's oil crises).

Solar/PV black swan events IMO would be stuff like paint-on solar "panels" or a cheap panel-plus-battery or something similar. Things that a few people are researching, a few more think are worth researching, but everyone agrees will be very difficult to actually do.

The real black swan for PV would actually be a battery. If someone turned up with battery that you could make at home that was better than current LiIon, that would be a real black swan. Especially once it escaped into the wild and suddenly US IP laws couldn't stop them being manufactured by everyone who wanted them. Imagine a sodium-chloride battery using a weird electrode that you can make using charcoal and an earth oven once you know the recipe. Suddenly a row of plastic buckets and some seawater is a battery... add the existing cheap "solar light kit" that is ubiquitous in a lot of the colonised world and things would get interesting.

Although... it's worth noting that various similar projects have struggled in those areas. I just watched a Marylin Waring doco that mentioned her "better cooking stoves" comments and 30 years later those are still slowly percolating out.

353:

The nature of a black swan meeting a human brain is that you immediately try to rationalize why you easily could / should have predicted it

No one predicted the massive price drops we’ve seen nor the adoption it’s way way past anyone’s most wildly optimistic scenarios. We are already hitting price points which were originally forecasted to come later then 2030

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/12/how-solar-and-wind-got-so-cheap-so-fast/418257/

354:

Well yes, but saying "we were off by 10 years in our estimates" isn't a black swan, I would have thought. Unless you also count climate change as a black swan, since that's also proceeding faster than expected.

That doco has a whole lot of ugly reminders of why "Counting for nothing: what men value and what women are worth" is a book for the ages. The problems she pointed out are directly relevant to the climate change and other problems we have now and there's apparently been sod all progress. Her criticism of the war industry formenting conflict is sadly even more relevant today than when she first made it. Not that she was the first to do so, it's just what I'm listening to right now.

https://youtu.be/WS2nkr9q0VU

One of her examples is how the Exxon Valdez sinking was a huge boost to the economy as measured through GDP, employment, a whole range of measures. She points out that it should probably be regarded as a negative event, in other words a cost. But we still measure things the same way, we still ignore all the things that she was complaining about, so we still have the same problems.

355:

That would work in small, personal settings. But the proposal is to replace cities' sewers with them, that's a lot more crap and a lot less garden space to put it. I also don't think it's reasonable to expect the entire world to just give up on birth control and modern medicines, especially when we need to increase population density to reduce sprawl.

356:

A bit more research on my part and for caffeine at least, it appears that enough time in secondary treatment (biological, oxygenated) will reduce almost all the caffeine. Found that in a study on Caffeine in San Diego area streams.

But enough pharmaceuticals slip through wastewater treatment and end up back in the drinking water supply. Therefore, I would expect a system that concentrates the waste steam into a more concentrated and static place to have a larger potential problem. Then there are some things like chemotherapy agents that get passed - I wonder what that would do to the microbes needed to do the composting bit.

I'm not saying humanure isn't a possible solution, it just seems like there could be some potential problems with its traditional methods and use when scaled up to modern cities with modern medicine and chemical consumption.

357:

the proposal is to replace cities' sewers with them

There's a difference between "we've changed the law to allow this" and "this is the only permitted option", let alone "we have removed all alternatives".

My impression is that the proposal is to increasingly segregate waste streams rather than impose composting toilets on individuals. I suspect that would be more a repurposing, so we'd see separate pipes for runoff/stormwater and biodegrageable material with industrial sites given the choice of treatment to a decent standard or not using the sewers.

Doing it incrementally means that the Zodiac-style tracing of individual polluters becomes practical much earlier than you might expect (for those that don't know it's already happening, anyway).

358:

I'm not saying humanure isn't a possible solution, it just seems like there could be some potential problems with its traditional methods and use when scaled up to modern cities with modern medicine and chemical consumption.

The important question IMO is "what is the alternative".

In Sydney we have the "Bondi Cigars" in living memory, so when our sewers are identified as a major cause of toxic algae and/or marine dead zones surrounding the city we already know what to do... we've done it before. At the point a quick trip through the digester then dumping it in the sea will go the same way as just dumping it in the sea did.

Once we get into tracking stuff like pharmaceuticals through treatment plants Australia may end up taking the lead simply because we have such erratic flow through our rivers and some big cities downstream of other big cities. Adelaide is a capital city with a parliament, for example, and they're already quite vocal about states upstream mismanaging their water. It's quite likely that they will progress from "quantity of water" to "purity of water" and in fact there are already public health restrictions on purity.

This is important because it's generally easier for a bureaucrazy to say "like this, but more so" than to go "here's a radical new idea, let's all do it now". Even when the idea is "how about not killing everyone" (what was this thread about, again?)

359:

In the UK, quite lot of recumbents do actually fly a flag on top of a thin whip-aeriel - often the "Q"
[ Yellow-orange: means "Fever or disease, do not approach this ship" ]

360:

I get that A LOT, usually with big, shiny BMW & Mercs ... - they tend to alter their opinions when faced with an old Land-Rover with moss & lichen growing on it (!) [ I do keep the window, lights & underneath clean, though ... ]

361:

Sorry, but many people did. The point about such price drops is that they happen when a technology starts being heavily used, and the manufacturers gear up for mass production. You can't easily predict the date, but the sequence is absolutely standard and, if you are an insider, you know when it will happen a year or two ahead.

Flat-screen monitors and televisions are an example where we were predicting them replacing CRTs 'imminently' for over 5 years before they did - it was simply waiting until the first semiconductor manufacturer tooled up to make such large objects (as distinct from CPU and memory wafers), and then the process completed in a couple of years. We knew that would happen, but it took a while for the people at the top of those companies to screw up their courage enough to commit the billion or so to do it.

Some of us have a good track record of predicting what most people say are 'black swans' in areas that we know about - there are a few innovations that genuinely catch everybody unawares, but fewer than you might think.

362:

Also just to return the snark, the fact that you think you can accurately predict when a royal flush is going to be drawn is exactly Talebs whole point

Because card drawing exists on a normal distribution humans tend to discount the chances that a very abnormal event would actually occur. Like hitting right off the bat. Or never hitting it after fifty million tries

Frank Landis is correct: a royal flush is not a good example of a black swan. It fails to obey the first of the three characteristics in your Taleb quote: "because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility". The possibility of royal flushes is known and already acknowledged -- it's baked into the rules of poker!

A better poker-game analogy would be someone having five of a kind, or being dealt one of the Tarot Major Arcana cards (because, say, it turned out that someone was secretly manipulating and substituting the decks, which is not part of the standard assumptions for poker games).

(Also, card drawing does not follow a "normal distribution" -- it's usually a form of hypergeometric distribution.)

363:

straws ignite more easily than does wood, but tightly packed straw is thought to be less ignitable

In our house, the interior walls are not plasterboard over wall studs, they're compressed straw packed between wall studs with a thin plaster skim over the top. This gives a solid wall, with very nice heat and sound insulation. The downside is it's not something you construct on site, you have to use big presses to make the panels.

This is very tightly packed straw. When my wife wanted to put extra sockets into one wall, she ended up with a small bucket's worth of now-expanded straw from the space. I suspect it would char rather than burn in a house fire.

364:

I noticed when I switched from driving a rustbucket to driving a shiny new car that suddenly people parked a lot closer to me rather than giving me room to open my doors fully like they used to :-)

365:

The point about humanure is that actually about source separation, which is one of the great bugbears of waste disposal.

There are any number of possible systems for recycling stuff, and people on solid waste boards get bombarded with dozens of new schemes every year, if not hundreds. Almost all of them depend on some part of the waste stream being separated out so that they can do something really cool with it. And therein lies the rub.

The simplest version of the problem is that garbage has high entropy, so you've got to put some energy in to sort stuff out. That's what those of us with the multiple bin systems are supposed to do.

Then there's the problem of idiots, and idiot-proofing your system. There are people who ignore the sorting system and just dump their trash randomly in all bins. How much of this kind of idiocy can your system tolerate before it crashes?

With sewers, they aren't a bad solution, because they just take all the stuff, try to treat it, and dump it where (hopefully) it won't be a huge problem. Except that we need more and better sewage systems, I think very few cities have the space or money to build what people want.

Collecting human waste only is a form of source separation. Yes, the stuff is loaded with pharmaceuticals, some of which (chemotherapy) can be pretty dangerous. However, that's still better than sewers, where you also have kitchen wastes, cleaning chemicals, and the occasional crook dumping toxic waste illegally and making the entire stream unfit for use as fertilizer.

While I don't think humanure production will replace sewers entirely, I do think that it's an option where sewers are too expensive or difficult. For example where there are vast slums with toilets numbering in the one per hundreds of people, it's a better option than trying to plumb the slum, because someone can make money cleaning it up, and get a relatively homogeneous waste stream to further process (hopefully!) and use elsewhere.

366:

The point I am trying to make (and maybe the card drawing anology is not a good one) is an important one so I’ll try once more

If a black swan actually occur then obviously the probability of it occurring was not actually zero, yet it was treated as such by enough people that it comes across as a huge unexpected surprise. Why?

Sometimes this happens because we have incomplete information or models (the namesake example of black swans in Australia )

However that’s actually not the interesting case, the more interesting one is that humans actually don’t deal with factoring very low probability events into their assessments and thinking, instead falling back on normality bias and just treating the probability as zero because it never happens in the real world

That’s what I was trying to get to in the card drawing example.

Another more classic example is an asteroid hitting the earth. We know that is a non zero probability but it is so low that we treat it as zero

Taleb then pointed out that this error can result in a big flaw in outcome if the impact of occurrence is huge. Its also important to take into account that there are many such low probability events hence the likelihood of something happening somewhere is substantially higher then you would thInk

A lot of people think of black swan as purely the first case, big unexpected could never have seen that coming stuff and hence miss the entire point of the concept

What I was trying to do was applying that to scientific reasearch, since for each line of research there is a low but non zero probability that some extraordinary, unexpected and high impact “discovery of penicillin” type result can occur. As (hopefully) more and more effort gets focused on global warming the odds become more substantial (over time).

367:

Nope. Your assumption here is the rough equivalent of the 1950s industrial adage of buying engineers by the acre to solve any problem. Yes, if there is a technological solution, buying engineers by the acre increases the likelihood of finding that solution. However, with climate change, the obvious, immediate problems are political and social, not scientific or technological. Throwing engineers by the acre at sociopolitical problems was, in many ways, what got us into this mess in the first place. Until we have better tools for dealing with the sociopolitical problems, the technological solutions will continue to be ineffective.

That's the whole point of this post: paying attention to the politics. Both Solarpunk and depending on black swans are akin to the famous Sidney Harris cartoon where the relationship between a starting equation and an ending equation is shown as "then a miracle occurs," with the caption, "I think you should be more explicit here in step two."

For solarpunk, ignoring step two is a good way to get stiff, utopian literature, while grappling with the sociopolitical problems that have to be overcome to get to that future should make more stories come to life. Those struggles are going to leave huge scars in both places and people. After all, Neuromancer had half-finished arcologies run by wind turbines, doomed to become ghettos by the introduction of huge fusion plants. Our future may well have plywood skyscrapers, but they'll almost certainly tower over huge migrant slums, if predictions of 10% of the human population migrating in coming decades come true. Talking about humanure in such a situation is actually fairly sensible, since I don't think most of those migrants will be on chemo.

For depending on black swans to solve this problem, you might as well pray for that miracle to occur while you're at it. Miracles are by definition black swans, after all.

368:

If I have a magic carbon eating algae like say in KSR’s “science in the capital” series how is that not an engineering solve?

I do agree with your general premise about paying attention to politics is important but the problem is not “primarily” anything, like many of the thorny problems it’s a big hairy mess of science , politics , sociology and engineering . All those levers need to engage to make progress

It’s funny you bring up the Sidney Harris cartoon because someone specifically used that as a counter argument for a very similar discussions I was having on “the oil drum “ a few years ago where I was arguing with an actuary about how once the price of oil for high enough it was highly likely there was going to be some “magic solution” to peak oil

369:

Nope, because if the algae dies, sinks to the bottom, takes up all the oxygen as it goes down, and decomposes anoxically, then you've got a dead zone in the deep and methane bubbling out, meaning you've replaced your CO2 potentially (if the methane reaches the surface) by a much nastier greenhouse gas. To be fair, I think the climatologists who care about deep time overlooked shale production in anoxic waters as a long-term carbon sink, but as a short-term solution, it's not going to work.

Taking the carbon out of the air isn't the big problem. Finding a huge, stable, safe sinks to keep the carbon out of the air for at least a century is turning out to be the insurmountable technical problem at the moment.

Actually, I misspoke: there is a very quick fix to climate change: total nuclear war. That would stop most carbon release very quickly indeed. Unfortunately, this is only true for perhaps the next decade. If we wait too long to try nuclear war as a solution to climate change, we risk something like the K-Pg mass extinction, where the Chicxulub asteroid strike happened during a major emission of CO2 by the Deccan traps. Since nuclear war is more similar to an asteroid strike than to GHG emissions (which are more similar to flood basalt eruptions), well, you get the point.

370:

Yes. The sub-thread about personal transport showed that very well. We may not have technological magic wands for the problem, but we DO have known, proven, existing technology that would reduce the environmental problems by a factor of (say) three. What's the obstacle to adopting that? Er, social and political with a flavouring of commercial, legal and diplomatic.

In many places (including the UK and, I believe, the USA), the energy requirements for 'climate control', food production, consumer product manufacturing and more could be reduced to a similar extent using only known methods. Again, the obstacles are social and political - largely via the deregulation of capitalism.

371:

I think KSR was actually lichen covering trees now that I remember

If you haven’t read those you really would enjoy them. They have been summarized as a “green earth” release which is a lot shorter and more readable

372:

One possible carbon sink would be trees that sink when dead. Tasmania has a lake that is slowly being emptied of such logs, from back when they used to float the logs down to the sawmill. A certain percentage soaked up enough water to sink and at the time they weren't worth recovering.

Doing that on a large scale would be one way to sink carbon. Grow trees, coppice them ot fell them, dump them next to a river, next flood push them in. They float out to sea and after a week-to-month, sink. You gain a carpet of logs on the sea floor and it becomes a reef (along with any ships impacted by the flood of logs event), and as a side benefit may get fish. A second side benefit would be a reduction in bulldozing of the local sea floor, as those still running trawlers started getting logs in the nets that made it back to the surface.

373:

Electrical power generation using fossil carbon sources puts more than ten billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. Growing wood and sinking it in the oceans to sequester carbon would require processing about 15 million tonnes of wood every day just to keep up with the existing CO2 addition, and that only from electrical generation. Adding in offsets for fossil-sourced CO2 from domestic heating, energy for industry, transportation etc. would double that requirement and more.

A pine tree from a plantation will be about two tonnes in dry weight after 30 years of growth, that is ten thousand days. A little arithmetic using exponents will give you an idea of how many such trees you'd need over a growing cycle just to meet current carbon atmospheric loads. Taking a teratonne (10^12 tonne) of existing CO2 out of the atmosphere to do some good would require a lot more effort than that.

374:

Yes, that kind of thing has been shouting at me right through the thread, but I interpreted the original post along the lines of "...but given that people do not behave sensibly, displaying instead an overwhelming and immutable preference for $really_idiotic_behaviour[], what kind of things are still useful and practical in the face of the endemic idiocy?"

If we relax that constraint, then the answer is straightforward and doesn't require any new technology at all, just redirection of effort away from the operation of the crank under the delusion that it will solve all problems if you just crank hard enough, and its positive direction towards desirable ends instead. Eliminate the 90%-odd of energy/effort/resource use that currently goes on cranking, and our overall activity level drops to the point where the inefficiencies and side effects of existing technology don't exceed tolerable limits (or at the very least, are no longer so far above tolerable limits as to make their replacement critically urgent).

375:

Essentially, it's just the biomass fuel idea - already discredited for large-scale application - plus extra pointlessness; instead of burning the biomass you've grown, you sink it and dig up some coal and burn that instead. Unless you're actually trying to ensure that whatever intelligent life form may exist in a few hundred million years time will have some brand new fresh coal seams available, it doesn't really help a lot.

376:

Taking a teratonne (10^12 tonne) of existing CO2 out of the atmosphere to do some good would require a lot more effort than that.

Yes, and I like to punt maths like yours into discussions by burners who earnestly declare that technology will provide a way to suck carbon out of the air so we don't need to worry about it now. Just the energy requirement is ugly, I vaguely recall that you could supply US electricity needs with under 10,000 square kilometres of PV, but a 100% efficient process for turning atmospheric CO2 into C + O2 applied to current emissions would take ten times that (multiplier may be larger, and obviously would be if you actually had a real machine to do it).

A while ago I concluded that re-foresting North America would be enough because the re-depopulating required would also reduce emissions(1). For some reason the proponents of tree-based carbon sinks tend to focus on Africa or Australia as a good place to grow the trees despite people already living even in the desert parts of those continents. Who would have thought "someone else's problem" would also mean NIMBYism? But 20Tm^2 of forests, even with a goodly chunk being slow-growing boreal forests, would sink a shockingly large amount of carbon every year. Stopping it from decaying would be hard but we'd have 20-30 years to work that out. Obviously removing 500M people would be controversial, whether you do that in Africa or North America.

(1) "again" because the arrival of European diseases dropped the population of America by 70-98% depending on who you ask and where you look. But before that there's pretty strong evidence for tree cropping over quite large areas, and big non-crop forests too. Taking North America back to under a million people, all of them forestry workers, would significantly reduce emissions.

377:

I don’t think you would have to remove people as much as rethink agriculture if you wanted to reforest NA

Urban areas are still small by land area and rural people can live in forests

It would also help to expand the range where trees can grow

I suspect the human race is probably about to be forced to become very very good at bio and generic engineering

378:

By coincidence KSR has an article in the Guardian today making that poiint: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/mar/20/save-the-planet-half-earth-kim-stanley-robinson

Arguing for making half the planet re-wilded space:
With people already leaving countrysides all over the world to move to the cities, big regions are emptier of humans than they were a century ago, and getting emptier still. Many villages now have populations of under a thousand, and continue to shrink as most of the young people leave. If these places were redefined (and repriced) as becoming usefully empty, there would be caretaker work for some, gamekeeper work for others, and the rest could go to the cities and get into the main swing of things.

379:

Yeah I saw that KSR article too, pretty funny coincidence

380:

Meanwhile there are stupid arrogant bastards demanding that the re-introduced & needless to say escaped & spreading Scottish Beavers be exterminated.....
And re-introduced Lynx wil kill ALL the sheep, etc etc .... ( We haven't got them yet, more's the pity )

381:

"Chrysler has a minivan, but it's an American car. I don't know how good the build quality is."
Terrible, but surprisingly endurable.

382:

Indeed. I have done some mental estimates of the proportion of GNE (Gross National Effort) that occurs in service to the One True God, Mammon, and it's scary - somewhere between 40% and 80% in the UK, I think. Once one adds in the extra effort involved in obeying the bureaucratic rituals needed to encourage people to behave reasonably, it's somewhere between 60% and 95%. I have asked an eminent economist whether there was any solid data on this, and got the answer 'Not as far as I know', but no denial of my estimate.

I have thought of a world where that effort was NOT wasted - obviously, the overhead wouldn't go to zero, but it could be reduced by a factor of ten fairly easily. But, if I were going there, I wouldn't start from here ....

383:

Well, yes the prerequisite for carrying out substantial anthropomorphic CO2 removal from the atmosphere is stop digging up coal and pumping oil and natural gas and burning it in said atmosphere. However nearly all people have an aversion to freezing to death in the dark and most have a similar but less-well founded aversion to nuclear power so it isn't going to happen.

384:

There's this interesting fallacy in your reasoning: modern humans have been around for ca. 300,000 years, and the majority of people live in places where freezing to death is not a possibility. Moreover, while the use of coal sporadically dates back to Roman times, the widespread use of fossil fuels for household heating is only a few centuries old.

Therefore, I'd say you're dead wrong: fossil fuel supplies are limited, and we will stop using them, either by design or through disaster. In temporal terms, fossil fuel use is a blip in the history of our species, assuming we survive the end of their use. Thus, it's a lot more useful to think about how we'll get along without them. If you want a slightly more frustrating challenge, figure out how 10 billion of us will get along without them.

385:

The much smaller and more rural population back then generally avoided freezing to death in the dark by burning wood products, camel dung and other available bio-carbon materials. Sometimes of course they didn't survive -- Western folklore is full of Winter = Death stories.

The result of population growth and industrialisation led to widespread deforestation before pumping technology made deep coal-mining financially and energetically viable. Later drilling for oil and gas became possible to provide liquid and gaseous fossil-carbon heating sources for domestic and industrial uses.

Yes, we'll stop using fossil fuel when it runs out in a few hundred years or more -- estimates by the USGS suggest the Powder River Basin in western America has at least five hundred years of coal supply at current production rates (about 800 million tonnes a year), ditto for a few other coal sources around the world (Germany is sitting on teratonnes of lignite, for example). By the time that's all extracted and burned CO2 levels in the atmosphere will be approaching 1000ppm and renewables will be as cheap as coal next year.

386:

I disagree. All of your counterexamples tend to come into the roadway *perpendicular* to traffic, not in the same direction.

And let me quote, as well as I can remember, from the late, lamented Hunter S. Thompson's first book, Hell's Angels, an expanded version of his Ph.D (journalism) thesis: The reason the Angels chose Harley hogs (1200CC engines) was because they were so big that they could seriously damage a car... and so were paid attention to. (Along with the trademarked LOUD ENGINE).

387:

My line: drivers in Mercedes and Cadillacs can't, drivers of BMWs and Lexus' shouldn't.

And Hummers... I have an immediate reaction to them: I wonder were the IED is, since they have vastly more money than brains, and contribute *NOTHING* to the human race or its gene pool.

388:

So given that the military hates towers, which severely limits updraft towers and wind, what is their likely reaction to vortex engines?

Would they tolerate them as they don't screw up the radar or treat them as an unacceptable hazard to low flying aircraft?

Of course this is ignoring the inconvenient fact that nobody has yet demonstrated that they are practical :)

389:

Oddly, I think industry disagrees with your estimates of coal. For example, it's more likely that Powder River has 40 years of coal, not 500.

It's a fairly honest and well-known truism that people exaggerate fossil fuel reserves by an order of magnitude. Why not? They can borrow money against "proven reserves," and by the time someone actually can check their math, they'll have spent the money on useful things (like lawyers) to make it hard to get back.

But really, you shouldn't buy such claims of how much we have left. Actually, you went a bit further, because the USGS claims from 1974 (over 40 years old) claimed there were 250 years left. Tsk tsk.

390:

It has to be said though that people also inaggerate reserves by similar factors. I remember Britain's coal reserves dwindling from a few centuries to a few decades under the influence of a certain politician's dislike of the mining industry... all bollocks, of course; we've got shitloads of coal remaining - far more than we ever dug out - it's just a case of digging deep enough holes to get to it.

391:

Your link is not "industry" but an eco-warrior blog grinding away at their axe. As fossil fuel sources dry up over the next few hundred years more effort will be put into extraction of what is today marginal sources -- go back in time to the 1920s and tell an oilman about oil rigs today in the China Sea and exploring for oil and gas under the Arctic ice cap and they'd look at you like you were crazy, with oil at a dollar a barrel coming out of Pennsylvania wells drilled a hundred feet down. Why go to all that effort and expense?

The summary of the USGS report for the Powder River Basin produced in 2015 concludes:

"coal resource of about 1.16 trillion short tons for 47 coal beds in the Powder River Basin; in-place (remaining) resources are about 1.15 trillion short tons. [clip]"

That's coal that can be recovered at any cost, and as fossil fuels get scarcer the price will rise meaning more of the resource can be recovered for a profit. It might be too expensive in energy terms, the dread Energy Return Over Energy Investment problem but if someone can make money from doing so they'll dig it up and burn it.

"An estimated 25 billion short tons of that coal reserve base met the definition of reserves, which are resources that can be economically produced at or below the current sales price at the time of the evaluation."

Notice the qualification at the end of that estimate, based on current prices which are historically low due to efficiencies in extraction and extreme heavy automation (Powder River coal costs about $10 a tonne at minehead today). Of course the US also has Appalachian coal which today provides about 50% of the market but it's not likely to last more than another hundred years or so. Solar power will be cheaper than coal soon after that runs out.

Most mining and resouce extraction industries only look about 30 or 40 years ahead, what's the cheapest to dig up and ship right now and that's what's marked as available. It's also about the length of a career professional's existence in the business, probably not a coincidence.

392:

Er, no. I don't know where you believe you have found my counter-examples from, anyway.

393:

If we ignore your pejorative statements, yes, you are right. The problem with coal is not the supply but the consequence of its use. Frank Landis is right. We can either stop relying on fossil fuels, or be forced to by the collapse of the world's ecology and hence survivability by humans. We probably won't go extinct (in the short term), but being unable to feed more than 5% of the population would cause our technological base and our social structures to collapse.

394:

we've got shitloads of coal remaining - far more than we ever dug out

One of the more terrifying examples of that is in Victoria, Australia, where there are huge fields of carbonaceous earth ("brown coal") pretty much on the surface (there is soil, then soil with a higher organic content that goes down 100m or more). Once you set up a power station to burn it you're good for as long as the power station parts last. They closed Hazelwood power plant recently not because it "ran out of fuel", but because it was 50 years old and cost too much to run. It will cost a bomb to decommission because it was built in the good old days when lead and asbestos were considered excellent industrial materials (and cooled with PCBs, I expect).

395:

Deep holes -- the shallow coal is all gone in the UK. Deep-mined coal in the 1980s in the UK was about 200 metres and more down typically. The further reserves left are deeper than that so more pumping, more ventilation, more man-transport to get to working faces to recover this coal which means more expense. On the other hand we import the coal we burn today because that's extracted from open-cast sites similar to Powder River at $10 a tonne or from mines in Poland which are quite shallow (in the 1970s we could ship coal from Communist Poland and have it delivered to coastal power stations for less than the minehead price of British coal).

Deep mines kill people -- about five years back the Chinese government proudly announced that only 2000 miners had died that year due to vast improvements in safety and regulation. God knows what the death toll had been before that if they thought that "only" 2000 deaths was something to celebrate. The British deep-mined coal industry was a slaughterhouse for its workers and it got only a bit better after nationalisation -- about 30 deaths a year by the 1970s. The best thing that ever happened to the British coal industry was having it killed off before it killed off more of its workers. (My father was a coal worker).

396:

_Moz_ @378 said:By coincidence KSR has an article in the Guardian today making that point

Awesome article. I have ordered the book he mentioned.

Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life
Edward O. Wilson

This video talks about the size of the city needed to house all the world's population.

What if Everyone Lived in Just One City?

The obvious point would be to have many smaller regional cities, say, one on each continent instead. We would build the North American city in the middle of Texas, since there is no one living there now that could not be relocated.

- These cities would be placed well above rising sea levels.

With each continent having a single city, you would surround it with farming, power generation. That would eliminate the need for people to constantly travel to other cities, so planes burning jet fuel, long distance truckers, long distant cargo shipping or trains would be eliminated saving the need for burning fuel.

Wiki - New York metropolitan area

New York Metro area holds about 20 million, so a large city, only 4 by 4 (New York Metro area) would hold most of North America. Remember, that includes a large number of parks and currently inefficient buildings. Build new, with widely spaced skyscrapers, and large parks, and you can have the population density without crowding.

To balance the Wilson book, track down the book by Robert Zubrin.

Merchants of Despair

They have two excerpts from the book.

The Population Control Holocaust

The Truth About DDT and Silent Spring

Zubrin talks in more detail to many of the points that James P. Hogan did in his book. Sadly, you can only find it used.

Kicking the Sacred Cow
by James P. Hogan

All these books are great background for Story.

Thanks...

397:

There's little point in recovering coal at any cost, because so much of it is so full of rocks that getting it to the point where you can burn it takes more energy than you can get out of it. Also, (and correct me if I'm wrong) the Powder River coal is less than 60 million years old, it's basically Eocene peat from the last time the world got as hot as it will in 2300 (at RCP 8.5), so it's not as dense as the much older lignite that used to come out of the Appalachians, and it's got less energy per pound as a result. The only thing it has going for it is that it has less sulfur per pound, so it doesn't cause acid rain. Before we cared about acid rain, the paleontologists liked it more than the energy industry did.

In any case, in 2008, the USGS concluded that only 10.1 billion tons of the Powder River were economically viable to mine. Since the US at that point was using about a billion tons per year and about 40% of the coal supply came from the the Powder River mines, their lifespan is set around 20 years, and no one's currently applying to build more mines.

Sorry Nojay, that's the data. Please try to be more complete.


398:

"Economically viable" means any estimate of reserves will vary as prices go up and down. Back in the 1980s British deep-mined coal was selling for about £50 a tonne (call it £90-£100 a tonne in today's money). If the price of Powder River coal tripled in the next thirty years to a quarter of that figure ($30 a tonne) the "economically viable" reserves would increase substantially too. Sure the Powder River coal product has a lower calorific value than anthracite but if folks want to keep the lights on and the gas has all been fracked and burned then King Coal will still be digging away because nuclear is Scary!

399:

What if Everyone Lived in Just One City?

That's a great and humorous premise.

I was thinking this morning as I rode to work that we could stack cities much more effectively if we didn't insist on such ludicrous fragmentation of ownership. The US has a lovely example of a chruch under one corner of a skyscraper. The idea of wall-to-wall skyscrapers is horrifying, but with coherent design they would work a lot better... arcology style can't be done incrementally.

I do wonder whether we'll see a planned corporate city somewhere. The current Chinese ones are not good examples, but I half expect a Japanese or Indian company to look at the rising sea levels and decide that for a few billion they can seed a 100M+ city on land they own somewhere less vulnerable.

400:

If there's less energy in the coal that it takes to mine and take it to market, how are they going to get it out of the ground, refined to something usable, and shipped to market? This is the fundamental problem of trade. There's no point in using a car to ship a tank of gas cross-country, because the car will use up more gas than it is transporting in taking the gas to market.

401:

If there's less energy in the coal that it takes to...

Energy Return on Energy Invested, or EROEI for short. You probably know that, but for other's that's the term you're looking for.

The answer is that EROEI doesn't matter in a capitalist system, what matters is profit. Especially in the sense of "privatise the profits, socialise the losses". So for example nuclear power is very profitable because they don't pay for most of the costs of the fuel and waste, or the cleanup. Many mines work the same way, once they close down we "discover" that the bond, if any, won't pay for site remediation and sadly the company responsible is now bankrupt.

In an authoritarian system EROEI matters even less, it's all about rewarding the powerful. That might be Putin or the Saud's keeping the country afloat on petrodollars, or Trump opening up all the mining because Obama made some national parks.

402:

That is just insultingly incorrect. The nuclear industry internalizes more of its costs than any other industry on earth. Decommissioning is funded out of electricity sales, waste disposal is funded out of electricity sales. - Seriously, the money for all of this is allocated. The real problem is that any attempt to actually build waste storage facilities has a depressing tendency to run into entirely political opposition from.. Well, there is no other way to put this, :

Bad faith actors. Yucca mountain got stopped because as long as it does not exist, the anti-nuclear organizations can keep claiming waste is an insurmountable problem. The supposed "technical objections" to it are just flat out not credible. (Source: I read the damn things. I also read decay tables. A concern that a future much wetter Nevada might manage to transport things out over several hundred thousand years after it became a rain forest for.. reasons.. is irrelevant. The net activity at that point is negligible. )

Fuel production is paid for at market rates, and as mining industries goes, is far more responsible towards its workers and local communities than is the usual praxis. (That does not make them saints. Its still mining.)

I seriously hate the anti-nuclear movement. It is a consistent and long term threat to both mankind and the entire rest of the ecosphere, because it is keeping coal in business. For decades and decades after coal became entirely technologically obsolete. Coal could be free and its externalities would still cost us more money than a nuclear power plant does, including all the externalizations of the nuke plant.

403:

Did we not learn anything from the whole Peak Oil fiasco?

As the market price of an energy commodity increases there is a high probability of developing new, more economical extraction techniques

With regards to stuffing everyone in cities, not sure what you won’t just use the cities you have for that, or at least the ones that aren’t floodomg? Much more efficient then building one new supercity, you don’t get that much more economy of scale


404:

The nuclear industry internalizes more of its costs than any other industry on earth.

Pripyat and Fukushima have done better than those downstream of Baia Mare, I agree. But the failure to actually clean up those areas also contradicts your claim that they've paid the costs of doing so (or perhaps merely reinforces my claim that they're profitable precisely because they don't clean up).

I can't see how you can claim both that "the money is allocated" and that no waste dump has been built. If one has never been built they can't know how much it will cost, and therefore can't know that the money allocated is sufficient. What we both know is that a huge amount of time and money has been spent trying to build waste dumps and they haven't done it yet.

The good news for you is that renewables are now cheaper than coal and in the process of wiping it out.

Perhaps you could move on to hating anti-solar activists?

405:

Guess the trolls have come back out again. Time to not feed them.

Over the years, I've gotten a number of calls and emails from anti-solar activists, who don't want those things in their back yards. There can be a real problem of environmental justice, when the rich force the poor to deal with the power plants in their back yards. However, most of the people who've complained to me about solar plants were straight up NIMBYs. There's even something of a standard script to this, and it's typically some version of "can't you come out and survey the privately owned site for free, find some rare thing out there, and shut it down?" Why yes, I'll trespass right away, indignant person who just called me. Why ever would I not want to do that?

407:

anti-solar activists

Down here we get more anti-wind ones because most solar is still on rooftops or in remote communities and both are popular with the owners - the household anti-solar people are generally already known NIMBYs and their complaints go through the normal channels. But Australia is an exporter of anti-wind nuttery, with "wind turbine syndrome" very strong here and being spread overseas by Australian activists. Don't look it up, it'll just make you sad.

My experience has purely been with planning contests, where developers are sometimes against PV because it adds costs or their designers don't like drawing them (seriously!); but sometimes also for, because it lets them meet the environmental requirements very cheaply (5kw PV + 20kW aircon = green, right?). But actual "we shouldn't have solar power" people probably hang out more with the "coal is yummy" types who voluntarily aviod the likes of me :)

408:

We know the costs because the Finns had an attack of sanity and started digging. The Swedish repository is also underway. Both are well within the budgets of the respective waste disposal funds. Its rockworks. There are no real surprises here.

409:

It's probably too early to start the Finnish repository but they've got more than enough in the piggy-bank from levies on the nuclear electricity they've already generated to pay for it so why not start? Total cost is a billion Eu for enough storage for the operations of their small fleet of nuclear power stations for a century or more. The French who have a lot more waste (although they reprocess so it's not simply spent fuel rods they need to store) are planning to start digging a hard-rock repository in about fifteen to twenty years or so.

The thing most anti-nuclear people can't get their heads around is how small the quantities of waste material nuclear power plants produce and how easy it is to store and dispose of safely, to a standard thousands of times better than coal and gas-burning plants. It's just Scary! (hence the "must be safe for milions of years and more" craziness).

It's a strange thing but if raw uranium wasn't so cheap and abundant today and into the forseeable future then there would be more pressure to reprocess spent fuel to recover the 98% or so of it that could be turned back into new fuel elements. At the moment the reprocessing operations that operate today in Britain, France, Russia and a few other places are based on a cost-no-object plutonium recovery process (PUREX) for military nuclear material. It's not cheap and it wasn't planned from the ground up to produce power station fuel moaterials. Developing a lower-cost spent fuel reprocessing system could reduce the volume of true waste by a factor of ten and more making for easier disposal but it's cheaper to run uranium through a reactor one time and then bury all of the spent fuel despite the loss of usable material.

410:

Well I remember totally confusing one of them by asking if they found entombing the waste in concrete in a subduction zone might be acceptable. By that I mean that they didn't know what a subduction zone was in the first place. Given that level of lack of knowledge I think they should be disqualified from having their opinions considered!

Or another personal account - Dounray had reported being unable to account for a quantity of uranium. An environ mentalist who was listening to that report immediately concluded that "someone has stolen a fuel rod". No amount of explanation of the size of a rod, and how it would give anyone within a reasonable radius radiation poisoning (by a group of 5 engineers, one being her brother in law) would convince her otherwise.

411:

There were plans to investigate the idea of drilling deep holes, several kilometres down, into shield basalt using oilrig hardware to make small permanent repositories for things like medical and industrial gamma imaging sources (usually cobalt-60 and the like) in Dakota. The locals objected vociferously even though they were told this was exploratory and the holes drilled wouldn't be used for disposal of anything and the project didn't go ahead. Nuclear is Scary! This is in Dakota which is part of the ecological disaster that is the Powder River basin coal mining operations, you understand.

As for the "missing" uranium at Sellafield, it turned out there was a part of the reprocessing line which had a bath which was used to weigh materials in liquid state. It had leaked and deposited a few kilos of solution inside the containment over a period of years. This threw the materials accounting records off hence the "stolen uranium" scare stories.

412:

Mostly subduction zone schemes are rejected is because waste repositories are supposed to allow people to get the spent fuel back in a couple of centuries..

Because we do in fact have one very cheap way to reprocess spent fuel. Its "Wait four centuries, then reprocess" - because after four centuries, all the short decay chains have run to completion, so it is much easier to handle, and the chemistry gets easier.

413:

Given the way subsoil rights are dealt with in the Dakotas, this was probably an appropriate response. The technical issues are not the problem, but the way the people interpreting the laws favor the interests of big corporations over the interests of both landowners and mineral rights owners can be really problematic.

For example, I've seen people sent a contract that specify that they get some small percentage of whatever money is made from accessing oil through their parcel (mineral rights, not land), but that they'd be responsible in perpetuity for the cleanup of anything that went wrong. And if they didn't sign, the oil company would go to the legislature and get their parcel seized. Complicating this was the fact that their names were misspelled and they didn't own all the parcels listed in the contract.

Again, this is political economy stuff. In such a system, if you owned the mineral rights to a chunk of old, cold basalt, would you lease your interests to a scheme to bury hazardous waste of any sort? You probably would be held accountable for anything that went wrong, but it's not clear you would be compensated per contract for the use of your land.

414:

I'd suggest the crowd that's thinking about finding a low-quality salt mine somewhere in a desert for storage are on the right track.

One problem with Nevada right now is that there are huge fights over groundwater, which various speculators want to send to Las Vegas and/or the LA area. There's still a fair amount of water under the desert, left over from the last ice age, when there were a lot of big lakes in the area (all those salt flats now). That water's precious, not just for Vegas trying to extend its life, but also because the springs that those aquifers feed into are what keep animals and Indian tribes alive in the Great Basin. Literally. Many of the Paiute tribes had to live near the rare springs and creeks, and all those pupfish only live where the aquifers still intersect the surface.

The second issue is that, because big mountains tend to get more rain than do lowlands, mountains are effectively big water towers, and the springs that come off their slopes keep a lot of things alive.

It is literally an environmental issue: water is life in the desert, quite literally. If you want to store wastes there, stay away from the water.

In this environment, what you have to find is a space where there's very little ground water, and the politics are such that someone's not getting screwed over too badly in exchange for your nuclear storage. It's trickier than it sounds.

415:

What I learned from the Peak Oil "fiasco" (after thinking about it for a bit):

--The market isn't driven by physical constraints, at least in the short (sub-decadal) term.
--The notion that people find more efficient ways of making oil when other ways run out is dead wrong. Originally oil seeped and gushed from the ground, and extracting was as easy as drilling a well. Now there's "more oil discovered than is being used," but the stuff that's being discovered is either in really dangerous spots to reach, or is effectively road tar that's being redistilled into a liquid. That's not efficient, that's horribly inefficient. There's just a market for that now. Ditto with coal.
--EROEI matters, because that's the difference between using something as an energy storage medium, and extracting energy from the Earth and doing stuff with it. Coal and oil are getting closer to being energy storage media, where people are spending large amounts of energy to extract them, but because they're specially energy dense, they're still desirable.
--Micro and macroeconomics are bunk in the case of fossil fuels, because more than most commodities, oil is about political power. Oil runs our military, it keeps cities functioning, and control of it is the dominant issue around which the US has built its military and industrial complexes. Any EROEI signal is getting lost in the politics right now.
--That doesn't mean the EROEI crowd is wrong. Rather it means that if oil becomes really and truly uneconomic to create, things will likely fall apart unexpectedly, and we won't have good alternatives in place for critical functions.
--A lot of people realize this (actually people realized this would be a problem a century ago), and that's one reason why wind and solar are ramping up rapidly. Also, building political power around wind and solar seems to be a better bet going forward, both because you don't get in a firefight with the US military, and because both are going to be around indefinitely, whatever else people do.

416:

Oh, yes, but that doesn't negate the disgrace that it allowed an unknown amount to leak into the Irish Sea over many decades, and the government using 'national security' laws not just to cover it up but to suppress independent measurements. My objection to nuclear power in the UK is solely that I don't trust the government an inch, not because it is nuclear (which I would approve of as a solution to the UK's problems, if done right).

417:

Zero nuclear power station waste has leaked or been deliberately released into the North Sea over the past few decades from sellafield, it's all nuclear weapons production materials and waste. Anti-nuclear people often conflate the two because it's good propaganda but that's all it is.

As for independent measurements of radioactive material in the Irish Sea "not being allowed" I didn't know the Irish government was in on the cover-up:

https://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/radiation/RPII_Env_Mon_Rep_03_05_07.pdf

In reality there's nothing stopping independents taking samples form the North Sea and doing measurements themselves. I would just hope their methodology is up to it and it's not just a case of someone walking along a beach in California while carrying an army-surplus Geiger Counter (one method a Youtube "citizen scientist" used to prove that the Fukushima radiation leak was going to kill us all, everywhere, right now).

418:

Anti-nuclear people often conflate the two because it's good propaganda but that's all it is.

I dunno, it's pretty hard to point to purely civilian nuclear power plants(1), especially in nuclear armed countries. But ... if the UK was going to build a civilian nuclear power station with no involvement by the people who ran Sellafield, would that be different?

My answer is yes, absolutely it would. Not least because "those people" are the government at various levels. Taking government out of running and funding the project would dramatically change it, and I'd be much more inclined to think it was a good idea. But a nuclear power plant run by private industry in the same economic structure as solar and wind are would be very different. Having a government focused on regulation rather than how best to ensure that no risks eventuate during its term of office would hopefully mean more emphasis on safety and less on "how do we make this happen" and "how do we conceal the problems".

Of course I also think that that would make it economically unviable in several different ways.

(1) I'm excluding the monitoring by military/linked groups to discourage nuclear weapons production.

419:

Please don't misrepresent. "Allowed to" implies negligence, not malice. And you clearly have been asleep over the past half century (or perhaps weren't born), because Greenpeace WERE blocked by just such government action, though I can't now remember even which decade. Sellafield, oops, Windscale, oops, Calder Hall isn't new, you know - and I suggest that you look up the correlation between the "oops" and the changes of name.

420:

_Moz_ noted: "One possible carbon sink would be trees that sink when dead."

Not necessarily a great idea. A couple year ago, I learned, to my dismay, that hydroelectric power is not carbon-neutral, and is often carbon-negative. The problem arises when you don't clean out all the organic matter in the basin before you flood it, especially including forests that aren't worth harvesting. When the reservoir floods, all this organic matter starts rotting, releasing large amounts of methane -- worse than CO2.

_Moz_: "Doing that on a large scale would be one way to sink carbon. Grow trees, coppice them ot fell them, dump them next to a river, next flood push them in."

Though I appreciate the pun, it's not going to work. If the trees sink, they aren't going to be swept out to sea. They'll clog the rivers and rot, releasing methane. If they float, they will be swept out to see, where they become a hazard to navigation and, if they do eventually sink, a large methane source.

If you want to sequester carbon in trees other than in forests, you'll need to put them somewhere dry where they can rest in peace without rotting. I understand Yucca Mountain is looking for a raison d'être...

421:

If you want to sequester carbon in trees other than in forests, you'll need to put them somewhere dry where they can rest in peace without rotting.

There's a lot of deep coal mines that could be repurposed for tree carbon sequestration, or the giant holes dotting Germany and the Dakotas and Australia and...

The bad news is that the bacteria that rot wood and turn it back into CO2 and methane evolved after the big coal seams were laid down a couple of hundred million years ago and keeping the timber dry and oxygen-free in a hole only slows down their ability to eat lignin.

422:

the bacteria that rot wood and turn it back into CO2 and methane evolved after the big coal seams were laid down

Yeah, but they're mostly oxygen consumers, so if you store them underwater the decay process is very slow. They mine Kauri in Aotearoa, both trees that were felled 100 years ago and couldn't be recovered from the swamps now can be, and older trees that have sat in the swamp for hundreds or thousands of years. It's a big business, and an ugly one.

Hydro dams are a different thing, the water is shallow and turns over regularly, and the vegetation that is/was flooded is often shrubby rather than big trees, plus I suspect a lot of the methane comes from soil and ground cover plants breaking down (that's the normal case for non-flooded vegetation). Also #notallhydro, alpine hydro is much less awful as a rule - less vegetation to start with, also less vegetation flowing in over time.

But the point is that if you can keep the air off the trees they will last a century or so. And they might be a good use for those bodies of dead water that seem to be turning up in various places :)

423:

... Again, very inaccurate.
Civil reactors are very shitty way to produce bomb grade fissiles - The optimum fuel cycle is just all wrong. In order to make weapons grade plutonium, you want to neutron bombard a fuel rod for a relatively short period of time so that as little as possible of the plutonium you are creating undergoes further neutron capture.

This is entirely antithetical to how a power producing reactor is run. There are two designs which allow online fuel swaps, which would in theory permit dual use..

- The CANDU, and the RMBK (Yes. Chernobyl. And yes, that capability had a lot to do with some of the less sensible design decisions that went into that reactor), but as far as I am aware noone ever actually used either design in that fashion - it is just far more straightforward to get plutonium from a reactor designed from the ground up to produce weapons grade material, so that is what every single weapons program on earth that wanted plutonium did. The other path to the bomb - Aka :"Just keep enriching" does not require you to ever build any kind of reactor at all.

There is a link between weapons programs and civil nuclear but it goes the other way.- Creating a base of nuclear engineering and practical-physics expertise is a major endeavor, but once you have done so in order to build weapons, the marginal cost of employing (some of) those people to put together a civil program is not very high, and it keeps them out of trouble.

424:

Pedant alert: it's mainly fungi that break down wood, not bacteria.

425:

I don’t think you would have to remove people as much as rethink agriculture if you wanted to reforest NA

Urban areas are still small by land area and rural people can live in forests

It would also help to expand the range where trees can grow

I suspect the human race is probably about to be forced to become very very good at bio and generic engineering

I read somewhere several years ago that there's more forest coverage in North America today than there was at the time of the original European colonization. Native Americans cleared a substantial amount of land for their food crops.

Because modern agricultural methods produce more food from less open land, lots of marginal farmland has been replanted in trees simply because trees provide a better return on investment than food crops would return from the same land.

426:

Well, yes the prerequisite for carrying out substantial anthropomorphic CO2 removal from the atmosphere is stop digging up coal and pumping oil and natural gas and burning it in said atmosphere. However nearly all people have an aversion to freezing to death in the dark and most have a similar but less-well founded aversion to nuclear power so it isn't going to happen.

Not unless we figure out reasonably cost effective alternatives to all three.

The Oil-Natural Gas/Nuclear problems are both "How much energy do we need so we don't freeze to death in the Dark?" If we figure ways to reduce the amount of energy needed to accomplish that goal, we're on the way to solving the other two problems.

Then all we need to do is figure out alternative sources for the amount of energy we still going to need.

427:

Oddly, I think industry disagrees with your estimates of coal. For example, it's more likely that Powder River has 40 years of coal, not 500.

I wonder how much of that industry "disagreement" is driven by the desire for higher profits both from prices rising due to perceived scarcity, while their costs go down if they can convince the government to repeal environmental regulations because "we're going to run out coal otherwise"?

428:

It's also worth, more fundamentally, considering how many people of the 7.4 billion people on the planet are in danger of freezing to death, when you make blanket statements about what *everybody* is going to do.

429:

how many people ... are in danger of freezing to death,

Rest assured, my Kenyan housemates are really feeling the cold of Sydney's autumn right now. They may not actually freeze to death, but it's jeans and puffer jackets time of year as far as they're concerned. We've day days where it doesn't get above 25 degrees Celcius!

430:

Its not just freezing, its everything. Average lifespan in places without a proper grid is decades lower, and that is not a coincidence. Electricity is life and civilization. Its not an optional luxury in any shape way or form and any plan for the future that treats it as if it is, has a political viability problem. NOBODY wants to be a dead peasant.

... I understand where a whole lot of the hostility towards environmentalism comes from - it is from arguments like this, where people treat civilization itself as the problem. Do not do this. Ever. It makes people pattern match you with the Khmer Rouge, and it is a fair cop, to, because any plan that involves energy poverty is going to kill people by the billions.

It will also kill the planet. Seriously. High-tech, urban, environmentalism is the only viable answer, because the poor treat the planet like shit.

431:

And so-called "evironmentalism" that is against nuclear power, because of the word "Nuclear"
"Fuckwit" doesn't even begin to describe it, I'm afraid

432:

Yes. I grew up in Africa, and had that problem when I moved to the UK. It was particularly, er, delightful going through the winter of 1962/3 in an essentially unheated house. But you DON'T need to rely mainly on heating - woollen undergarments, trousers, jersies etc. are extremely effective.

433:

Well, yes, but the claim that our current energy usage system is essential for that is also where a lot of the hostility to your arguments comes from. You are quite correct about electricity, but the proportion of it that is used for such purposes is small compared with the proportion that is used for keeping wimps coddled and, even more, padding the bank accounts of the fat cat companies. Absolutist arguments from both sides are fuelling the tribalism.

There are a few of us whose normal position is in no man's land, being flamed from both sides, but surprisingly few.

434:

It's also worth, more fundamentally, considering how many people of the 7.4 billion people on the planet are in danger of freezing to death, when you make blanket statements about what *everybody* is going to do.

Not my original thought, I was responding to another comment that used the phrase "freeze to death in the dark".

Change "freeze to death" to any of the myriad other ways lack of energy resources can make life miserable or even impossible. Maybe it's people dying during a heat wave because they can't stay cool enough.

Finding some way to meet needs with less energy (i.e. use energy more efficiently) will help reduce the demand. With reduced overall demand, the need for Oil-Natural Gas/Nuclear power is lessened. The more demand is reduced, the easier it becomes to meet demand with alternative energy sources. Demand reduction is just another of the tools we need.

"When you find yourself in a hole, the first step to getting out of it is to stop digging yourself in deeper."

435:

You missed the curve.

The argument was that coal would come back because otherwise everyone would freeze to death in the dark.

Now someone's saying that coal will come back because in the summer it'll be too hot and everyone will fry without AC.

So basically, the solution is fossil fuels and nuclear power, and the rest is rationalization. Is that correct?

And you wonder why us fuckwit environmentalists talk about people as being abjectly addicted to fossil fuels and nuclear power, and paralyzed with fear over the thought that they might have to even wean themselves off.

436:

Re: Harvesting water in a desert

Haven't read the previous 100 comments so apologies if this has been mentioned before. Anyways ... very Frank Herbert/Dune ...


https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180322103212.htm

'In field tests, device harvests water from desert air

System could provide drinking water even in extremely arid locations

Date: March 22, 2018
Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Summary:

You really can extract clean drinking water right from the air, even in the driest of deserts, researchers have found. They've demonstrated a real-world version of a water-harvesting system based on metal organic frameworks, or MOFs, that they first described last year.'

...

'The new work is reported today in the journal Nature Communications and includes some significant improvements over the initial concept that was described last year in a paper in Science, says Evelyn Wang, the Gail E. Kendall Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who was the senior author of both papers. MIT postdoc Sameer Rao and former graduate student Hyunho Kim SM '14, PhD '18 were the lead authors of the latest paper, along with four others at MIT and the University of California at Berkeley.

Last year's paper drew a great deal of attention, Wang says. "It got a lot of hype, and some criticism," she says. Now, "all of the questions that were raised from last time were explicitly demonstrated in this paper. We've validated those points."

The system, based on relatively new high-surface-area materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), can extract potable water from even the driest of desert air, the researchers say, with relative humidities as low as 10 percent. Current methods for extracting water from air require much higher levels -- 100 percent humidity for fog-harvesting methods, and above 50 percent for dew-harvesting refrigeration-based systems, which also require large amounts of energy for cooling. So the new system could potentially fill an unmet need for water even in the world's driest regions.

By running a test device on a rooftop at Arizona State University in Tempe, Wang says, the team "was field-testing in a place that's representative of these arid areas, and showed that we can actually harvest the water, even in subzero dewpoints." '

And, it's solar-powered!

437:

Re: Harvesting water in a desert

Here's the original (open)article:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-03162-7

Adsorption-based atmospheric water harvesting device for arid climates

438:

No. The problem is that I keep hearing people say - very often in the same piece of short writing - that renewables are a fully satisfactory substitute for conventional power sources, and that we must cut electricity use to the bone.

And professing both of those things is logically incoherent. If solar is cheaper than coal, then we can light up cities to our hearts delight at the cost of a very modest amount of desert acreage. Again, stop doing this, because people read it, and what they take away is that you do not in fact believe solar will work at all, but are merely professing virtue.

... On virtue: Remember our hosts writings about how the singularity is largely a piece of warmed over christian theology?

I am coming to the conclusion that the hair-shirt tendency of the green movement, the obsession with "cutting back" is also warmed over christian theology. Except in this case, what is getting reheated is one of the most unpleasant aspects of Christianity - The idea that suffering is good for the soul, and poverty is morally superior.

Austerity is the ruin of nations, and the death of political legitimacy. It will still be both of those things if you implement it in the name of "sustainability".

An actually sustainable economy must also be sustainable politically - It matters not at all if you reduce your footprint on the earth, if the means you employ to do so get you voted into the outer darkness and run out of town on a rail. Thus: The gleaming cities where toys are built, thrown away and recycled into new toys. Where culture and architecture thrive.

The consumer economy does not *have* to be poisonous or rapacious. Everything we build is made of atoms and energy. Energy is not scarce, and atoms can be recycled eternally. It is entirely doable to build cars and tvs and pcs and all the accouterments of modern life with an eye towards reducing them to raw materials once they reach the end of their life, and it is entirely possible for everyone to live in spacious apartments with shiny stone floors that will last unto the end of time - the world will not run out of granite. ECT.

439:

Re: '... the poor treat the planet like shit. '

Yes ... any idea how valuable/indispensable well-tended animal shit is on a small (poor) working farm?

Maybe the problem is that urbanites don't use/treat their techno 'shit' similarly, i.e., recycle, reuse, etc.

440:

No, they are not. Very, very regrettably :-(

While solar power is an adequate substitute for fossil fuels in SOME locations, (a) there are far more where it is not and (b) it is not without environmental (and social) costs of its own. Price in a monetarist sense be buggered - we are talking about a proper environmental cost-benefit analysis, as our 'civilisation' needs for survival. But it is definitely a better solution, where it will work, as are wind and wave. And it would stop the main driver of climate change.

However, there are other, almost equally serious costs associated with our cheap fuel societies/assumptions, both environmental and social. And those would NOT be addressed even by waving a magic wand and converting 99% of our fuel demands to solar, wind and wave. Amongst them, is the consequences of the rest of the world 'developing' to match the energy demands of the USA, because that's the way you develop a society/economy, right? There just isn't the usable land area, extractable supply of rare earths, etc. etc.

I don't want to divert again, but this article shows ONE of those issues, as it affects UK transport. And note that the objective is NOT to become as driving-dominated as the USA, but merely to maintain what we do today, with an expanding population. Yes, it's the Tit and Bum, but this is a well-known problem and I have seen it in more respectable rags.

https://www.thesun.co.uk/motors/5889545/cars-bikes-congestion-fears/

441:

Correcting you to be polite -- the British Magnox and AGR designs can also be short-cycled to produce weapons-grade Pu-239. Several countries bought a single Magnox reactor back when they were being rolled out in the UK, probably for that reason. There are rumours that the US bought some Magnox-derived Pu-239 and tested it in at least one nuclear weapon, in part to see how good it was and in part to "fingerprint" it.

All foreign and domestic Magnox reactors are now shut down and either are being or already have been decommissioned. The British fleet of AGRs is still operational but under IAEA monitoring to prevent proliferation. Besides Britain has a large reserve of weapons-grade Pu-239 and doesn't need any more -- indeed they'd like to find some way of using that surplus up to be rid of it rather than have to guard and monitor it.

442:

That sounds, if I may be intensely patronizing, as:

a) intensely afraid, on the notion that, unless we keep doing what we're doing, then everything will fall apart. and,

b) based on the inherent notion that society is a bubble phenomenon, which may drive the fear in the first sentence, because there's this underlying notion that it's all going to fall apart anyway.

Actually, I agree with the fear. I think you personally should be paralyzed with it, although I'm glad almost everyone else is not.

Civilization as we practice it does look like a bubble, and that's why I don't think it's sustainable. I'd go a bit further and say that our species, like locusts and some others, may well have two modes: normal, where the species exists at low densities (in us, these are foraging bands) and irruption, which in locusts we call swarms and in humans we call civilization.

If this is the case, then as the denizen of the biggest swarm our species is ever likely to produce, one of my practices is to help insure that the human swarm does not make it impossible for its few surviving successors to keep on living as foragers until it becomes possible to swarm again, some time in the future. This is the environmentalism of trying to keep climate change from blowing all that polar methane into the air. It's also the environmentalism of trying to ameliorate the onrushing mass extinction to the feeble extent that I can. With the first, I'm simply trying to keep us from going extinct, while with the second, I'm trying to make sure our descendants' resource base is as broad as possible.

There's also the possibility that I'm wrong, that global human civilization represents a state change, not just a bubble. I'm intensely suspicious of this, because almost every bubble has some version of the statement "the rules are different now," and civilization is no different than that (indeed, I'll bet that a careless response to this post will include the notion that the world