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Bathroom Talk November 21, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in environment, water efficiency.
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In Bluejay mansion, bathroom talk is only allowed when one is actually in the bathroom. And so I am typing this post while on the can. As far as you know. Happy belated toilet day, everyone! Friday was world toilet day! You missed it? Wasn’t this all over facebook, twitter, foursquare, or whatever this months’s thing is? Weren’t people foursquaring where they just popped a squat? Tweeting every turd? Digging every dingleberry? How many downloads of SitOrSquat were there?

WTD is actually serious business, The World Toilet Organization originated it to draw attention to the fact that most people in the world live without proper sanitation—think toilet scene from Slumdog Millionaire—and face unnecessary health risks as a result. The WTO is often confused with its better known sister organization with the same acronym, and this confusion is understandable given their missions. WTO the lesser aims to allow non-Western countries to shit as cleanly and efficiently as Western countries. WTO the greater aims to allow Western countries to cleanly and efficiently shit on non-Western countries. But I digress. The reason I brought up WTD and WTO is because I think that their charter is too narrow. Yes, there are serious sanitation problems in many parts of the world. And yes, these need to be addressed. But Western countries have sanitation problems as well and the WTO needs to draw attention to those as well.

What’s the problem with Western sanitation? It wastes too much water, uses too many chemicals, requires too much expensive infrastructure, and generates too much pollution. Of these, water usage is by far the biggest problem. The world will run out of fresh water way before it runs out of oil. Many places already have. In the US, large rivers like the Missouri and Colorado are already completely dry in stretches because all the upstream water is channeled away for agricultural, commercial, and personal uses. The Ogallala aquifer which sits under Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma has only about 30-40 years worth of water left in it. Attention, great plains farmers, now is the time to cash out! If only there was somewhere to cash out to! And as with everything else, things are only getting worse.

As much as the US needs to get off of carbon, we need to get off of fresh water. A human being needs 6 gallons of fresh water a day to satisfy basic drinking, cooking, and washing needs. The average American uses 80 gallons of water a day. A 5 minute shower is 20 gallons. Each flush of a standard toilet is 3.5. Then there’s the dishwasher. The clotheswasher. The flowerbed. The carwash. The grapes at the supermarket—growing grapes uses a ridiculous amount of water as you can imagine. Meat—animals drink water in addition to eating grain grown using water. And pretty much everything else that we buy—water is used extensively in manufacturing.

What to do? Well, use less water obviously. Take shorter showers. Eat less meat and fruits and vegetables that take a lot of water to grow—rice, berries, nuts. Buy less cotton—cotton is another incredible water hog. Take it easy on the carwashes. Use local plants in your garden that don’t need a lot of water. Don’t water your lawn. Install low-flow shower heads and toilets. Even better, install a composting toilet. Of all the things to use water for, flushing your shit to a treatment plant en route to a river seems the most asinine—ha! The next toilet I buy will be composting. I shit you not—double ha! I know what your first reaction must be—ugh! But you’re wrong. I’m not going to install a port-a-john in my house. A port-a-john is an open unflushed bowl in which water-soaked turd undergoes methane-producing anaerobic digestion. A composting toilet separates urine from feces and uses bacteria to digest excrement aerobically. Aerobic digestion produces less odor—not no odor, but a lot less—breaks down pathogens, and reduces volume by up to 90%. A composting toilet has to be emptied only once every three months, not every three days. And the sludge is black, mostly odorless, and can be dumped directly in the garden. Using a composting toilet is cleaner and more convenient than cleaning up after a cat, much less a dog. It’s really no different than using a conventional toilet.

If sanitation is developing countries is going to improve, composting toilets will have to be the way. There is no water-based sewage infrastructure—in many places there is no running water of anykind—no money to build infrastructure, and not enough water anyways. Just like the developing world skipped past landlines and went straight to cellular, here’s betting and hoping that they skip past centralized sewage and right to composting toilets. And as our own sewage infrastructure starts to break down, why pump billions of dollars into repairs? Why not move to composting toilets and spend public money elsewhere—education, healthcare, paying down the debt, or invading countries that have oil. The debt commission—is there a goofier combination of name and face than Erskine Bowles? Not even John Boehner—recommended a $0.15 a gallon gas tax. Hey Erskine, how about a $0.15 a gallon toilet tax? $3,000 tax credit for a hybrid car? Why not a $500 tax credit for a composting toilet? A little of this and a bit of that, I smell a toilet compost collection cottage industry—triple ha! And think of all that free, non-oil-based fertilizer!

The Philadelphia Eagles have announced plans to make Lincoln Financial Field “net-zero energy” . The Linc will produce more energy than it consumes using a combination of solar panels and Michael Vick powered wind turbines. Jeff Lurie, if you really want to go green, install composting toilets and waterless urinals also! And replace the water in the players’ squeeze bottles with beer. For the visiting team.

P.S. In his recent memoir, King George XLIII’s refers to himself as “The Decider.” Which I suppose is accurate since deciding doesn’t imply knowing or thinking. Anyways, when I first heard that I had faint echo of someone else calling themselves by the same moniker. But I couldn’t remember who. Then I saw it while reading Little Miss. Bluejay her bedtime book—Skippyjon Jones! The delusional Siamese cat who fancies himself the great Chihuahua sword-fighter El Skippito Friskito! SNL were ahead of their time with that 2000 skit of Bush playing with a ball of yarn.

P.P.S. Donovan McNabb’s contract. Funny.

Just What Environmentalism Didn’t Need September 2, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, climate, crime, environment.
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For the next year, Philly Bluejay will be multi-casting from the home office in Bethesda, MD. Bethesda Bluejay … Philly Terrapin … Philly Bluejay 20816 … is on hiatus from the glass and red-brick ivory tower and spending the year working for Uncle Sam. Both figuratively—I am working at the Department of Energy’s Building Techologies Program. And literally—my boss’ name is Sam, and he is certainly old enough to be an uncle.

Philly Bluejay saving the world one building at a time—just what environmentalism didn’t need? Well the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but the title refers to something that happened just a few zip codes over at One Discovery Place, Silver Spring, MD 20910—Philly Bluejay wanted to live in either the 20910 or 20915 zip codes for the sole purpose of playing on 90120 or 90125 but alack, 20816 is closer to Mrs. Bluejay’s work. Yesterday morning, one James Lee walked into Discovery Communications Headquarters carrying a rifle, shells, and two pipe bombs. He allegedly fired a shot into the air before taking three hostages, making a list of demands, and negotiating with police for over four hours. He was finally shot and killed by a sniper when he pointed his weapon at one of the hostages. Mr. Lee claimed to be willing to die for his views. And he did. I am sure that he regretted that he had only one life—and 15 minutes of fame—to give.

Mr. Lee did have some valid aims—we do in fact need to find a way to stop global warming. Although his ways and means were less than practical—all human procreation and agriculture must cease immediately! And while some of his programming suggestions were good—enough with Kate+boobjob+eight and with the Duggars and their 19 children—others were just loony—can we really have enough shows about little people, the morbidly obese, or conjoined twins? I say no! But in the end, he was a nutball, peeved that Discovery Communications could not find a place for his television show in its lineup of stations—Discovery, TLC, Sc, PlanetGreen, Animal Planet, and the Military Channel to name six. Really, could we not get an hour of Mr. Lee rather than the umpteenth rerun of Shark Week or that insufferable Bryan Cox on Wonders of the Solar System?

The problem with nutballs is that they give legitimate causes a bad name and opponents of those causes ammunition. Is it bold to predict that in the coming days Beck/Hannity/Limbaugh or some TEA Partier will paint Mr. Lee as the face of the environmental movement? Environmentalists are nutballs! Drill baby drill! Kate Gosselin for congress! And nutballs never advance their chosen cause in any real way. Did the goofs at ELF (Earth Liberation Front)—the outfit that set a Seattle subdivision on fire several years back to protest over-development—stop northwest exurbia? Did this freak actually save any animals? Now, nutballs with their own ships are something else completely. If you have your own ship, you can do something! If you are a nutball with your own ship, Discovery Communications will beat a path to your door and put you on prime time! Mr. Lee, your biggest mistake was not plowing into headquarters with a ship!

But nutballs for good causes are not as harmful as respected critics of the same. There is a particularly good example in this case—the late Dr. Michael Crichton of of Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, and Disclosure fame. Bright, articulate, and successful as he was, Dr. Crichton was one of the most visible deniers of anthropogenic climate change and argued vociferously that we should spend our monies and energies on one hundred more important pursuits and problems before we turn to carbon dioxide. He even wrote a book called “State of Fear” about a band of environmental terrorists and the protagonists who foil them, presumably with the aim of calming down what he viewed as environmental hysteria. I’m not sure how much impact his writing and speaking had, but it’s fair to assume that he had some. He was a visible dude with the ear of important people. If only he were alive to see the shit that is going down today. In “State of Fear” the eco-terrorists try to set off strategic explosions in Antarctica in order to detach an ice sheet. Detaching ice sheets? Now that’s fiction.

My suggestion to would-be eco-nutballs? Forget about whales and squirrels and the red-bearded monkey and the four-assed monkey—but not the bluejay, no no—start protesting the fact that gas is still 2.73!

P.S. No P.S.’s today.

P.P.S. Oops!

Little Additional Threat August 8, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in business, energy efficiency, environment, sustainability.
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There are many scary things about the Deepthroat Horizon disaster. Safety procedures on offshore platforms? Frightening. The overly cozy relationship between “regulators” and the oil industry? Terrifying. 190,000,000 gallons spilled—between 9 and 30 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill? Mind-boggling. Future prospects for Gulf communities? Cover-your-eyes awful. But the scariest thing about it? It might be over soon.

The static kill procedure seems to be working—no more sexy videos of the gushing leak! Two relief wells will be finished soon. One quarter of the oil that spilled has been skimmed. Another quarter and change has simply disappeared—presumably evaporated. And the remaining 90,000,000 gallons that remain at large—about half of which has been “dispersed” either chemically or by natural water churn— poses “little additional threat.” Little additional threat? Phew. What a relief (well). Game over. Good night. Drive—literally—home safely. Thank G-d we didn’t pass any knee-jerk clean energy bill! Now we can get back to talking about the Iraq withdrawal/unemployment/Charlie Rangel/Brett Favre/Ellen DeGeneres.

Of all the jargon and soundbytes that Deepthroat has given us—top kill, stacked cap—”little additional threat” may be the most sinister. It’s the soothing background to the 20,000,000,000 dollar escrow account, Tony Hayward’s resignation, and the reorganization of the MMS. It’s the lullaby that finally puts us to sleep after four months of building Deepthroat fatigue. We’re tired of thinking about it—too depressing. The media is tired of talking about it—no new angles. “Little additional threat” makes it okay to move on. But is it?

31 years later, Prince William Sound has still not fully recovered from the Exxon Valdez. And Deepthroat spilled at least ten times as much! How exactly can anyone claim that 40,000,000 gallons of oil floating around the Gulf is a non-threat? And what exactly makes “dispersed” oil harmless? From what I understand, “dispersed” means broken up into tiny droplets. Did you know that plastic in the ocean becomes really harmful only after it’s broken down into tiny pellets? Because that’s when small fish can eat it and start pushing it up the food chain! Fish don’t eat plastic cups and rubber ducks and sneakers! They eat tiny pieces of orange and red plastic that look like krill. Fish are not going to get near beachball sized orange globs, but they will get near—and probably try to eat—little orange droplets of oil and dish soap! I’m sure “little additional threat” makes every Gulf resident who earns a living from the water feel so relieved! Who knows, maybe Joe Barton can get the 20,000,000,000 dollar “shakedown” reduced to 5,000,000,000!

The bigger disappointment is that the swell of clean-energy sentiment seems to have crested and crashed with no real long term effect—an energy bill with real teeth! There is nothing sadder than opportunity lost. And with “little additional threat” and the midterms coming, I smell a Republican backlash against clean energy and for the oil industry? After all, “even the worst offshore drilling accident in the history of the world didn’t turn out to be such a big deal!” [Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Gingrich Oct. 2010]

But here is a way to think about Deepthroat and clean-energy/energy-efficiency going forward—this is courtesy of energysavvy.com via Lane Burt@switchboard.nrdc.org. I am going to redo their math, because it doesn’t seem quite right to me, but even the much more conservative numbers I come up with are compelling enough. The average American home (AAH®) uses 11,000 kWh annually. Let’s say that an energy efficient home uses 8,000 kWh. That’s a 27% improvement—not drastic, and certainly not “zero-energy.” So an AAH wastes about 3,000 kWh a year which works to about 200 gallons of oil—one gallon of oil will get you about 15 kWh of electricity. So 1,000,000 AAHs waste about the same amount of oil a year as Deepthroat spilled—that’s 1% of all AAHs as there are about 100,000,000 of those. Now, let’s say that making an AAH energy-efficient costs 20,000 dollars. Making 1,000,000 AAHs energy-efficient would cost 20,000,000,000 dollars—that’s the same amount of money as in the BP disaster relief account. Suppose BP set aside this money to retrofit AAHs rather than to pay for cleanup/relief/compensation. That one time investment would effectively save the equivalent of one Deepthroat spill—every year in perpetuity! It would also save EEAAH owners 1,000,000,000 dollars in energy costs a year—essentially paying for itself within 20 years. Without the environmental/stock-price/public-relations damage. And no additional threat.

P.S. Summer-of-Brett 5.1. The increasingly-pathetic-looking-yet-in-reality-perfectly-rational Minnesota Vikings increase Brett Favre’s 2010 salary from 13,000,000 to 16,000,000 plus 4,000,000 in “achievable bonuses”—that’s right, kids, 1,000,000 dollars per game! Undoubtedly pleased by this sycophantic plea, Brett announces that he is “still undecided,” that he “wants to play health permitting,” and that “this isn’t about the money.” Of course it’s not about the money, it’s about the incessant ass-kissing! Or maybe its about the sexting.

P.P.S. Summer-of-Alex 6.0! In case you haven’t heard, Alex Rodriguez—aka ARod aka ARoid aka AHole—hit his 600th career home run yesterday, joining Barry “Bobblehead” Bonds, Henry “Hank” Aaron, George “Babe” Ruth, Willie “Willie” Mays, Sammy “JackO” Sosa, and Ken “Junior” Griffey. Despite its apparent magnitude, the accomplishment was met with a collective yawn. Here is a nice piece about the milestone by ESPN’s Rob Neyer. The picture in particular is fantastic.

P.P.P.S. Fringe with a better actress.

P.P.P.P.S. SPOILER ALERT! A question for people who have seen “Inception” and “Dreamscape“—a mid-80’s less sophisticated Inception with Dennis Quaid and Kate Capshaw. Anyways, in Inception, if you die in a dream, you wake up. In Dreamscape if you die in a dream, you die in real life. So which is it?

P.P.P.P.P.S. I’m sorry I missed your birthday, POTUS BO! This would never have happened if we were Facebook friends!

Pull The Plug On … June 16, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in clean energy, climate, economy, environment, football, politics, sustainability.
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Did you catch POTUS BO’s Oval Office speech last night? I missed it live, but just saw it on YouTube. I didn’t realize that this was the first Oval Office speech POTUS BO has given—an analysis in the NY Times pointed this out. Strange given how long he’s already been in office and the potentially national course altering agenda items he’s already pushed through or is pushing right now—the Wall Street bailout, the economic stimulus, the troop surge in Afghanistan, the health insurance reform bill. Just shows what a political hot button this disaster has become.

I’m a fan of POTUS BO—he’s center-left on Mount Crushmore—and enjoy his speeches. This one was fine. I would have written a similar speech myself. I wouldn’t have delievered it with that gravitas and that charisma but the contents would have been the same. Mostly. Yes, “we will make BP pay for the damage they have caused.” And yes, we must “seize the moment” and “end our century-long addiction to fossil fuels.” But, do we really “need a long-term plan to restore the unique beauty and bounty of the region?” and do we really have to “make a commitment to the Gulf Coast?” I don’t mean to sound callous, but I hope not.

“The sadness and the anger the [people of the Gulf] feel is not just about the money they’ve lost. It’s about a wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost.” Technically speaking this is not an anxiety. Anxiety is apprehension about an imagined or intangible threat. This is fear of a known future. 30 years hence, Prince William Sound has not recovered from the Exxon Valdez spill. When it’s all said and done, BP will make EV look like a ketchup stain. Current estimates are that the well is spilling 65,000 barrels a day. That’s just a touch higher than the 15,000 barrels a day that was the official estimate just two weeks ago! We’ve deployed 5,500,000 feet of boom to contain the oil. But the first major storm will spread the oil all over the place, boom or no boom. Shoreline cleanup will be nearly impossible. Cleanup workers essentially “power-washed” the rocky coastline of PWS. The Gulf coast is marshy—power-washing will do more harm than good. And the number of people who make their living off Gulf waters? It’s many times over the number of people that made their living in the sound.

I hate to use this particular figure of speech in this particular case, but it’s time to “pull the plug” on the Gulf coast. The region has been taking a beating for years. Even before the BP spill, the oil and gas industry had robbed it of its “beauty”, “bounty”, and ecological value. As things stand now climate-wise, category 5—or will that be 7—storms will come with enough frequency that even communities that are not perpetually underwater will not be able to recover from one storm before the next one hits. Sustaining a sizeable human population on the Gulf coast—something that will require massive investment, endless cycles of rebuilding, and may not even work—is simply not sound strategy from a resource standpoint. Compensation followed by relocation—they can take the Saints with them wherever they go—and withdrawal is better. Some have suggested that the BP spill is “Obama’s Katrina” or “Obama’s 9/11”. But maybe this crisis will and should become known by another moniker of a famous man-made disaster—maybe this is “Obama’s Chernobyl.” After all, Chernobyl not only turned the world away from nuclear power, it also turned the Soviet Union away from Chernobyl! If I were any more morbid and any less cheap, I would buy the domain name http://www.gulfcoastexclusionzone.gov. Alec Baldwin wants to let BP die. Perhaps we should consider letting the Gulf coast die—at least as the center of human activity we like to pretend it can still be. AIG was too big to fail. But the Gulf coast is smaller than AIG. Maybe it’s time to pull an Aron Ralston on the Gulf coast region—to amputate the already-dead flesh before the rest of us die from blood poisoning and dehydration.

P.S. Pulling the plug on the Gulf coast would have another side benefit—it would pull the plug on nutty first-generation-American Republican politicians. First, “Bobby” Jindal. Now, “Joseph” Cao. What is in the water in Baton Rouge? In case you hadn’t heard, Mr. Cao told BP America chief Lamar McKay to “commit hara-kiri” because “in ‘his’ culture, that’s how anyone who had so dishonored himself would ‘roll.'” By the way, if you have single-quotes inside double-quotes to end a sentence or a clause, does the period appear before both single-and double quotes or between them? Hmmm. Back to Mr. Cao. Evidently, this remark rendered many of his fellow Congressfolk speechless. I suppose that one third was stunned any politician should make such a comment in the first place. On the spectrum of George “makaka” Allen to Randy “baby killer” Neugebauer, to Helen “get the hell out of Palestine and go back to Germany” Thomas, it’s definitely between Neugebauer and Thomas. Another third was aghast that Mr. Cao—being a US Congressman and everything—would play the “Asian Culture” card. Does Mr. Cao suffer from Cultural Identity Disorder (CID)? The remaining third was probably dismayed that Mr. Cao —who is Vietnamese—would claim that Vietnam rolls by Samurai code. Perhaps, Mr. Cao suffers from not one but two cases of CID—dissociative CID (DCID) as it were. Mr. Cao, if I were you, I would put a golf-ball in my mouth and wait patiently for my congressional reprimand.

P.P.S. And for Mr. Boehner—who predictably reacted to POTUS BO’s call to non-inaction with “President Obama should not exploit this crisis to impose a job-killing national energy tax on struggling families and small businesses”—I have only this to say. In Bluejay culture, we would just hand you a knife and ask you to commit hara-kiri.

P.P.P.S. Here’s my two nickels for new offshore drilling regulations—and yes, offshore drilling will continue despite the bad karma now attached to it. My proposal is simple. No deep water well can operate without a ready-to-go relief well. Any existing deep water well without a relief well must suspend extraction until a relief well is drilled. How ’bout them golf-balls?

P.P.P.P.S. How in the name of “Joseph” Cao did North Korea make it into the World Cup tournament? North Koreans have nothing to eat! I suppose “Dear Leader” KJI divides his country’s limited resources exclusively among: i) the nuclear program, ii) the national soccer team, iii) his Courvoisier stash.

Obama’s Katrina June 10, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in clean energy, crime, drama, environment, politics.
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Several in the media—translation: mostly FOX “news”—have suggested that the BP oil spill is “Obama’s Katrina.” By this they mean that Obama’s milquetoast response to the disaster is reminiscent of the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina and is a similar indicator of weakness or an inability to lead. By the way, “Obama’s Katrina” is not to be confused with “Obama’s Vietnam” (the War in Afghanistan), “Obama’s Waterloo” (the Health care bill), “Obama’s Watergate” (the alleged White House job offered to Joe Sestak quid pro quo not opposing Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate Primary), “Obama’s New Deal” (ARRA), “Obama’s Hindenburg” (ARRA or Healthcare reform), “Obama’s Rasputin” (first Jeremiah Wright then alternatingly David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel), “Obama’s Ginger Rogers” (first Hilary Clinton then Chris Matthews), or “Obama’s Exxon Valdez” (strangely, Jeremiah Wright and notthe BP spill). It is, however, to be confused with “Obama’s 9/11.

What is the biggest difference between “Obama’s Katrina” and the rest of them? At least the rest of them fit. Kind of. Other than the fact that it is happening in the Gulf, how is the BP spill anything like Katrina? And how is Obama’s response now deficient in a way that Bush’s deficient response then? Different op-eds I have read and watched have accused POTUS BO of: i) not being harsh enough with BP, ii) giving BP too much time to try and fix the problem on its own, iii) not doing enough to help Gulf communities, iv) not being harsh enough with deepwater offshore drilling, v) being too harsh on deepwater offshore drilling, vi) abetting the disaster by not enforcing offshore drilling regulations strictly enough, vii) paying too little attention to the disaster, viii) paying too much attention to it, and ix) not taking sufficient advantage of the disaster to pound the message of alternative energy sources and to push through alternative energy legislation. At least we can all agree that he wasn’t actually on the rig during the explosion.

First, what could POTUS BO—and by extension the US government—have done to prevent this disaster? Yes, they could have regulated offshore drilling more stringently and enforced safety measures more vigilently. But was there an outcry for this prior to the spill? I don’t recall one. Meanwhile, experts for years had warned that NOLA’s levees would not withstand a direct hit by a category 5 hurricane, but those warnings were ignored because that confluence was perceived to be a “100 year event” and 100 year events—perhaps incorrectly interpreted as “events that will only happen 100 years from now”—are a low priority item in the federal budget. Yes, the drilling industry has an overly cozy relationship with its oversight agency—and you can bet this will change—but this wasn’t perceived to be a bigger problem than the relationship any other industry has with its oversight agency. Or with congress for that matter.

Second, what is POTUS BO—and by extension the US government—supposed to do to help plug the leak or mitigate damage to coastal communities? Should POTUS BO don a deep sea diving suit and push golf balls into the leak by hand? Should the US Army Corps of Engineers get involved? Should other companies be allowed to try their hand? Who knows! But seemingly—as incompetent as they may appear—the entity with the best shot of fixing this problem—not to mention the entity most motivated to fix the problem—is still BP! And as for mitigation? There isn’t enough plastic boom to contain the spill and protect all the areas it will affect. Plastic boom doesn’t work in rough seas anyways—just in time for hurricane season! And there is doubt about whether any remediation actions make sense before the flow of new oil is stopped or safely diverted to container ships. In the meantime, all we can do is hose down birds. As for the human inhabitants of coastal Gulf communities? Their lives are not in danger. They have not been rendered homeless. They are not without adequate drinking water or medical supplies. They have lost livelihood and real estate value and for that they should be compensated. By BP! But the US government is not failing these communities now the way the Bush administration and FEMA failed the residents of NOLA in 2005.

And finally, what is to be the economic, regulatory, and political aftermath of this disaster? This is still to be played out of course, but a few outcomes are obvious. BP will emerge significantly diminished, if it emerges at all. You will not see me write a post with the title “BP Doesn’t Deserve This” the way I defended Toyota back in February. The Toyota scandal mushroomed quickly but blew over almost as fast because evidence of criminal negligence or malfeasance on Toyota’s part was scant. Toyota stock is down 20% off its one-year high but Toyota posted record earnings last quarter. I even got new floormats! Meanwhile, evidence that BP is guilty of criminal negligence is accumulating quickly. BP stock has lost over 60% of its value, shareholders have filed suit against the company, and Tony Hayward is holding on to his job simply because no one is willing to take his place—would you take over this mess? would you like to appear before congress to explain how this happened? BP can only hope that its payouts are not proportional to the amount of oil leaked. But things could be worse. If BP were an American company, it would probably ask for—and get—a Federal bailout! Offshore drilling safety should improve significantly. And this should happen with no revamping of the MMS. Eliminating the ridiculous 75,000,000 dollar Federal cap on liability—which may as well be a 75 cent cap for all practical purposes—will do the trick. The real question is will offshore drilling be scaled down in favor of more expensive but less EXPENSIVE energy sources. Moratorium or no moratorium, in the short term the answer is no. His outrage or lack thereof aside, POTUS BO will not pee on the embers of the economy by throwing an oil shortage on top of the current jobs crisis. But in the slightly longer term, one can only hope that this disaster is the final straw that turns the US away from oil and towards clean sustainable energy. That is the only possible silver lining in this brown plume. And it’s the only way in which Obama can detach the monikers of “Katrina” and “9/11” from it and replace them with one of his own choosing.

P.S. My favorite response to the BP oil spill so far has to be Rand Paul’s “accidents happen.” Is this guy really going to be a Senator? I might have to start DVR’ing CSPAN!

P.P.S. First, Al and Tipper call it quits. Now, Karenna and Andrew are on the rocks. At least Rush Limbaugh’s marital life is going well.

P.P.P.S. You know, Joran, you have to kill three people in order to officially be considered a serial killer. Looks like you’re only going to make it as far as “sick freak.”

The Five Stages of Climate Change Grief June 3, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in Africa, books, China, clean energy, climate, economy, energy efficiency, environment, society, sustainability, transportation, water efficiency.
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I just finished Bill McKibben’s Eaarth. It’s an account of what we’ve already managed to do to the planet (just frightening when you stop and take stock), what changes we are already locked into (nauseating), and how we can cope with this new planet (alternatingly depressing and ispirational). It’s called “Eaarth” because it describes a planet substantially different than Earth. Personally, I would have named the book “Eartch”. First, it’s Earth + c. Get it? If not, never mind. Second, Eartch sounds like vomit whereas Eaarth just sounds—or at least looks—Dutch. Then again, if anyone knows something about living with climate change and dealing with a rising sea, it’s the Dutch. I still prefer Eartch, though. If there is one talent I have it’s naming things. Whether it’s giving people nicknames. Putting a name on a project. You name it. Actually, I name it. Bill, you should have consulted me!

A few things about McKibben. First, he looks remarkably like someone I used to know—Boyd Multerer, who’s now the GM of Xbox Live. Second, he—is—almost—as—fond—of—m-dashes—as—I—am. —. Third, he uses colloquial phraseology like “Whatever, dude!” and “get real.” Fourth, he pokes fun of Tom Friedman in a loving kind of way. Which is great. Famous people need to rib each other more in print in this way. Just so they don’t start taking themselves too seriously. One of my fears is that I will not be famous enough for someone to rib me in print. That’s actually my third biggest fear—right behind climate change and alligators. The really great thing about McKibben poking fun at Friedman is that he is a lot like Friedman. Except that he is primarily an environmentalist rather than foreign affairs journalist. And he lives in a small town in Vermont rather than in an 11,000 sq. ft. house in Washington, DC. And he doesn’t have an awesome moustache. Now that the NFL draft is over, McKibben may take a spot on Mt. Crushmore, alongside Gregg Easterbrook, my mother, and POTUS BO. Tom Friedman can be Crazy Horse.

Onto Eartch. Do yourself and the rest of us a favor and read it. There is no excuse not to. It’s not very long, you’ll finish it in a few days. If you don’t have a copy and don’t want to buy one—good for you for repressing your consumerist instincts—I will lend you mine. If you don’t know how to read, have someone who does read it to you. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t like what this book has to say. But it will change the way you think. And maybe the way you live too.

So what is it that makes this book different than other climate change books? Basically, it has a different—and sadly much more realistic and grounded—arc. It doesn’t paint some speculative dystopian future, and then turn around and say “if we all stop driving right now, we can stop short of the cliff.” The basic message is that there is literally no way to avoid going off the cliff at this point. Society as a whole—and Western society specifically—is going to end up in a lower place than it was. What we do from here on and how quickly we do it will determine how low we go and how gentle the decline. It’s a bitter message, but it’s strangely reassuring. It feels like the fifth stage of grief.

Let’s start with denial. Americans tend to discount climate change because few of the extreme weather events that are its supposed signatures have happened in the U.S. And if it doesn’t happen in the U.S., it doesn’t actually happen. But stuff like this does happen. On a fairly regular basis these days. Eartch doesn’t prognosticate or speculate. It mostly talks about things that have already happened or are currently happening. There is no need to extrapolate or at least not to extrapolate very far. What’s currently happening is bad enough. And the worst thing about it is its unpredictability. Society is largely built on predictability. No predictability, no society as we currently know it.

If there is something to be angry about right now it’s that we’ve wasted the last 30 years. 31 years ago, POTUS Jimmy Carter delivered his famous “Crisis of Confidence” speech, in which he laid out his vision for America’s—and the world’s—energy and environment future. No more dependence on foreign oil. Alternative fuels. Conservation. Personal responsibility. Coal. The speech was delivered from the Oval Office, a few dozen feet underneath the White House solar panels. We should’ve listened then. We didn’t want to hear any of it. 18 months later it was “Morning in America.” The solar panels came down. Everything was de-regulated and we started off on a 30 year oil-fueled growth bubble that only exploded 18 months ago. Our last good chance to avoid the cliff was 1980. There is no avoiding it now.

Bargaining. Good luck with this one. To quote Leonard Nimoy on “Fringe”: “physics is a bitch.” And it’s not the only one. Chemistry and biology are too. For a long time, the accepted “safe” level for atmospheric CO2—”safe” meaning supporting stable hydrological cycles that bear some resemblance to the current cycles—was 450ppm. Guess what? That number is actually closer to 350ppm. And guess what else? The current concentration is over 390ppm and even stopping it at 450ppm is going to be extremely. On second thought, I think we are going to have to skip this stage and go right to depression.

There is a lot to be depressed about. Climate change means the end of stability and the likely end of meaningful economic growth as we’ve known it. The social pyramid scheme which is economic growth has gotten too top heavy and the earth is collapsing under its weight. The end of economic growth means a reduced aggregate standard of living as we have come to define it. Fewer choices. Fewer material possessions. Less mobility. If there is any justice in the world—and that’s a big if—Western standards for these will need to drop substantially if those for developing countries are to rise to humane levels. We need to accept this.

Acceptance is a strangely liberating thing. Would a society in which we consume fewer resources and have fewer material possessions as a result be a bad society? Would a society in which we traveled less, lived a more local life, be a bad society? Would a society in which some aspects of globalization were reversed and some of our choices were limited by our geographical location be a bad society? Would a society without substantial economic growth, half of which benefits the top 1% anyways, be a bad society? To para-quote Po Bronson, “Freedom is not having unlimited means. Freedom is the knowledge that you can live whatever your means.” We need to re-calibrate our mindset. To redefine success—you know what they say, “If at first you don’t succeed.” We need to redefine prosperity and progress as something other than economic growth. If we do that, it will be easier, mentally, to buckle down and get to the enormous task at hand. And maybe if we do that, we will have Eaarth rather than Eartch.

Thanks Bill.

P.S. How stupid do you have to be to take out a loan at an 85% annual interest rate? Full credit if you answered Eddy Curry. Partial credit if you answered Antoine Walker.

P.P.S. Another Bluejay sighting. But this one wasn’t in Philly. It was in Columbus Circle in DC.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat? May 5, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, clean energy, climate, environment.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was and will continue to be a disaster. There are no two ways about it. 11 oil workers died. Cleaning up will cost between two and eight billion dollars. Much of the damage that has already done and will continue to be done—stopping the leak will require drilling sideways into the existing well to divert the flow and this will take at least a month—will not be reversed for many years. If ever. Gulf coast communities, human and otherwise, will suffer physically. The Human ones will suffer financially too. BP will bear the bulk of the direct cleanup cost. Fine. It remains to be seen how much of the indirect cost falls on BP. The cynic/realist in me thinks little. Gulf coast residents will bear most. The taxpayers will cover the difference. Don’t worry, it won’t be much compared to the 182,000,000,000 we gave AIG.

As important as the immediate physical and financial effects of the spill, perhaps the more important effects are the political ones, specifically those on future energy policy. Already, several states have placed moratoriums on offshore drilling. That’s a knee-jerk reaction, but it’s for the good. However, the other side of that coin is that expanded offshore drilling was presumably to be a (the?) major concession to the right in what I only hope will be an aggressive climate and energy bill. Without offshore drilling to allay their fears about “increased consumer energy costs” (translation: jobs for their states), what new, potentially worse, concession will be required to bring conservative Senators from coastal states aboard?

Here’s what should bring them aboard. The BP oil spill was an accident. But it’s the kind of accident that will probably start happening with greater frequency. Drilling for oil is expensive and there is already talk that BP was taking some shortcuts with its equipment, most infamously by failing to include an acoustic shutoff valve. Is BP the only company taking these shortcuts? On NPR’s Radio Times yesterday, Lisa Margonelli said that the Niger delta—where drilling regulations are more lax—experiences the equivalent of the BP accident every year! The BP accident took place at a well that was gently described as “technically challenging”—the oil is more than three miles below the ocean floor which itself is a mile below the ocean surface and ther rig. Are future drilling sites likely to be more or less technically challenging? Logic dictates that companies explore less challenging locations first and so future drilling is likely to be as challenging if not more so. And finally, are ocean conditions going to be generally less violent and more conducive to drilling or vice versa? Ironically, in part because of drilling, conditions are likely to get worse.

One argument that is strangely dormant in the fossil vs. renewable fuel debate is the increasing risk of disaster associated with extracting fossil fuel. Perhaps this isn’t talked about because the risk is still very low—despite the fact that we have had a both a deadly mine explosion and a deadly oil rig explosion in less than a month, mine and rig explosions are still the exception—and risks that low are seen as “the cost of doing business.” But the costs of fossil fuel disasters, especially oil disasters, are incredibly high. And a low, but non-zero, risk of a disaster with an incredibly high cost is not only a non-negligible average cost, it’s essentially a guarantee that eventually we will experience this disaster and its cost. Yes, wind is expensive and made more so by its own unpredictable nature. But as the BP incident shows, oil can get unpredictable and expensive too. Is any wind farm going to be eight billion dollars expensive? Is any wind farm going to be 11 lives expensive? And yes offshore wind farms kill birds and “ruin” beach vistas, but will any wind farm kill as many birds and ruin as many beach vistas as this accident?

If anything, to me, a spill like this underscores the fact that we need to switch to renewables as quickly as possible. Not only to avoid the chronic and inexorable disaster that is climate change but also to avoid the accidental and acute disasters that are BP. If we don’t, it’s going to be lather, rinse, repeat. Literally.

P.S. God love her, Mrs. Bluejay buys me many books. Almost as many as I buy myself. If you ever feel compelled or obligated to buy me a gift, a good non-fiction book is a safe bet. I am especially partial to social commentary and scientific thought. If you are not sure which social commentary or scientific thought book to get me, just get me an Amazon gift certificate. Or a Kindle. Anyways, one of the best books the Mrs. has gotten me is “What Should I Do With My Life?” by Po Bronson. If you’ve ever asked yourself this question—and let he who has the free hand cast the first stone—you will find this book quite … emotionally liberating.

P.P.S. I know that “let he who has the free hand cast the first stone” is not the appropriate adage there. But I like it and I try to use it wherever it even remotely fits.

In Conclusion… April 4, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in China, clean energy, environment.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

… either we help China build more wind farms faster, or we get environmental disaster trifectas! Thanks, I’ll take questions now. You, in the back.

P.S. Reader #0, is this what you meant by short?