Sunday, May 19, 2019

Republishing "Don't feed the warhorses"

Republishing the post below from December 2016. TLDR version - old political warhorses like Biden do well in party primaries and less well in general elections. Doesn't mean he can't win though, just that it's harder. (And note the wrong idea I had that Biden couldn't possibly run in 2020.)

I don't think it applies to Sanders because except for the last few years, he didn't do much to help Democrats beat Republicans. Not sure that really works in his favor, though.

Biden does seem to have a demeanor that makes him "moderate" rather than "compromised" so that might help him, but we'll see what a primary and general campaign does to that image.

And while I'm saying this is how American politics work, I'm not saying I'm happy about it. It's crazy that Pete Buttigieg has a better chance now than 20 years from now when he's been forced to make hard decisions and compromises. But it's what we've got.


The old post from December 2016:

Don't feed the warhorses, and careful with the lightning rods

People may be sick of political introspection, but for those who can handle a little more, here's a list of old warhorse nominees:

H. Clinton
Gore
Dole
Bush Sr.
Mondale

Plausible additions, although not a perfect fit:
Romney
McCain

These are people that had been prominent for a long time and had done a lot of favors inside their party, so they had built alliances within the elites and started their campaigns with a fair amount of name recognition within their parties. They also didn't do very well in winning the Electoral College. Bush Sr is the only partial exception, going 1-for-2.

I suppose Reagan could be argued as a counter-example, but he wasn't very cozy with Republican elites in 1980, and that's also going back a ways in political history. Even if you did include him, the warhorse win-loss record is pretty bad.

Our political system, for worse rather than for better, values newness and "authenticity" over experience, compromises and baggage. I'm open to suggestions as to how that can change, but I'm not up for beating my head against the wall. The warhorses don't make good general election candidates, and Democrats shouldn't choose them in upcoming elections.

And good news, the only warhorses Ds have lying around these days are former nominees and Biden, none of them likely to run again. But the problem will return someday.

Second and related issue is prominent Democrats becoming lightning rods for Republican lies. Hillary was their target with the willing assistance of the New York Times and some other media. The result made her the second-most unpopular nominee in history.

Hillary wasn't the sole target of hate and lies - before her, it was Gore. While I hate to let the Republicans win their little game, maybe it's time for a little political judo - the Republicans are  spending all their lies on warhorses they see as future nominees, and those people aren't the best nominees anyway. So don't nominate the lightning rods that Republicans have been lying about, and use 2008 as a model. The Republicans had no coherent critique of Democrats, let alone a message of their own, and just had Hatred for Hillary. That let Obama define a completely different, hopeful, and moderately progressive alternative.

We'll see what the Republican game plan will be for 2020 - something tells me that it won't be a positive message based on a record of accomplishments. They also won't have 2008's McCain who tamped down on a new set of lies against Obama.

I'm not saying run from any candidate the Republicans start lying about, just to choose wisely instead.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Semi-review: Let It Shine - The 6,000 Year History of Solar Power

Short version of my review of Let It Shine: go read it, even if like me you're not interested in passive solar architecture. It's ironic that passive solar isn't that interesting to me, because it's about half of the book and until the last century it was about the only truly successful harnessing of the sun. Everything else, however, is still interesting enough to make this a good book about the history of solar power.

The history of solar water heating is fascinating - it got pretty far, particularly in Japan, before being killed off by cheap fossil fuels. In some alternate universe timeline, solar motors, solar water heaters, even solar electric modules developed in the late 1800s were never replaced by coal and fossil fuels.

Solar electric was particularly interesting to me. They have a picture of the first photovoltaic array in New York City, in 1884. PV energy seems like it could have taken off earlier than it did - the Eisenhower Administration purposefully rejected it compared to nuclear power and the mirage that atomic batteries would be commonplace.

The early space race, OTOH, was a godsend for PV as the only feasible long-term power source for the small satellites they used at the time (I'm not sure when radioisotopes became an alternate power source). The Gollum of 20th Century climate change even makes an appearance. A design for the first proposed American satellite from 1955 "shows that the satellite's designer, Dr. S Fred Singer, planned to use solar photovoltaics as its power source."

PV's cost hardly mattered for satellites but they helped pay for early technological development. Soon afterwards, remote locations on earth also became obvious use cases (irony again, offshore oil platforms started it). PV poked along for a while while subsidies for nuclear power and fossil fuels burgeoned forth, and PV received little R&D. The Atomic Energy Commission in 1973 proposed a 5-year research budget of $4 billion for nuclear and $36 million for solar. The Reagan Administration purposefully neglected solar. It took massive subsidies in Germany and piggy-backing on computer chip technology for PV to really begin its takeoff.

One interesting lesson from the book (mainly from discussion of solar motors and solar water heating) is how much of technological development is iterative development of prior work. The statement that science relies on standing on the shoulders of giants applies just as well to engineering.

Again I'd recommend the book. I'd also be interested in a history focusing exclusively on solar PV, and another on wind power. Suggestions welcomed!

Saturday, May 04, 2019

A brief guide to denial arguments.


Back in 2012, I reviewed a book by James Lawrence Powell, The Inquisition of Climate Science (Columbia University Press,2011). Powell received his doctorate from MIT in geochemistry and taught at Oberlin College for two decades. My review, entitled "Petroleum and Propaganda: The Anatomy of the Global Warming Denial Industry"  appeared in the May 2012 issue of Monthly Review, and can be found online.

James Lawrence Powell has described the highly effective corporate-funded propaganda campaign  to alter the public perception of climate science.The global denial industry includes corporate funders, toxic think-tanks, and PR flacks. For example, the Heartland printed and distributed 150,000 free copies (in fifteen languages)  of The Skeptic's Handbook. The author is a pseudonym. Looking back at my 2012 article, little has changed in the essentials. The case for global warming science is even stronger now than it was a few years ago.





Tuesday, April 23, 2019

CO2 is garbage not plant food


Is there a bunny so sheltered that he or she has not seen myriad repetitions of denial starting with CO2 is plant food?

Eli is a patient bunny, but has decided to take up arms against this nonsense.

CO2 is garbage.  It is recycled by photosynthesis using renewable solar energy

Go forth and spread the word.  It annoys the hell out of those in denial about how people are changing the climate for the worse.  Even better it is accurate.

The bleats you will earn are your blessings.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Yes, Eli has been on sabbatical, but he really has been thinking of the bunnies, especially with Easter coming up.  Well, sometimes it just gets hard to think of something new and interesting and life, or at least Twitter, has become a series of re-runs where all that is needed is a link to some old Rabett Run post (there are some goodies there the Bunny will tell you:).

In any case there has been recent discussion about a chart posted by the Lawrence Livermore Lab folk about US Energy consumption and copied to TwitterSeveral are trying to use this as an argument against fossil fuels pointing to the fact that rejected energy is a large part of electricity generation and more.


This is tied together with a basic confusion first discussed by RayP on Real Climate, that the problem with fossil fuels is not the rejected energy, but the fact that the greenhouse gas emissions remain in the atmosphere and slow the emission of heat to space over centuries.  In a letter to Steve Levitt, Ray dispensed with Nathan Myhrvold's argument that
. . . in effect, that it was pointless to try to solve global warming by building solar cells, because they are black and absorb all the solar energy that hits them, but convert only some 12% to electricity while radiating the rest as heat, warming the planet. Now, maybe you were dazzled by Mr Myhrvold’s brilliance, but don’t we try to teach our students to think for themselves? Let’s go through the arithmetic step by step and see how it comes out. It’s not hard.
Interested or, as in the case of Eli, those with the dread forgetting disease, can follow Ray through the calculation, but the point is that all energy eventually (may take the age of the universe, but eventually) degrades to heat, but some of it can be used in the meantime to do work (move things non-randomly, including electrons).

The reason that fossil fuels are heating the Earth is not that they produce heat as well as work, but that their CO2 emissions continue to increase the amount of thermal energy in the atmosphere, on the surface and in the oceans, over centuries.

Sunlight heats the Earth and is degraded to heat which radiates into space by IR emissions from the surface and the atmosphere.  Increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere slows the rate of radiation so that the Earth has to warm, increasing the rate of radiation to return the system to balance.  Energy added on the surface by fossil fuel combustion or nuclear energy or wind or solar, or whatever is soon degraded to thermal energy and radiated to space.  It's a small one time charge.

The ratio between the work, W that can be done and the energy input U, W/U is the efficiency, and the heat produced is Q. 

Thermodynamics sets the upper limit to efficiency.  Engineering sets the actual limit.  It turns out that renewables like wind and solar are not very efficient, but that the heat that they generate in creating work does not lead to a continual warming of the system over centuries.  The same is true for heat generated in fossil fuel combustion, but, as RayP pointed out a decade ago, that is irrelevant, because the CO2 produced in fossil fuel combustion DOES heat the Earth for centuries.

That being said, it's good to be efficient.  For one thing, it costs less over the long run in the building, operation and maintenance of stuff.  Also, rejected heat is local, which can be both good and bad, depending if you can use the heat for other things like industrial processes, or heating the home.  That gets deep into the weeds and Eli will leave it there

Friday, April 05, 2019

The clip that Republicans will play if Biden's the nominee - "Mr. President, my suggestion is don't go"

Unfortunately I don't see an embed option, but if he's nominated, then a shortened clip of this CNN video will get rotated heavily next year, starting about 55 seconds in, where Biden says his response to question of whether to attack the bin Laden compound was "Mr. President, my suggestion is don't go".

Expect to see that heavily played if he's the nominee. Also, if Republicans want him to be the nominee, I expect it won't be played at all by the Republican elite prior to the nomination, although they can't control everybody on their side.

They will cut off the video right before he adds "there are two more things you should do first." The Dems can point that out; it won't help them very much.

He can also point out how he backtracked in 2015 as he was considering running against Clinton, and announced the secret and contradictory advice he supposedly later gave the president:



 I don't think that will help him that much and may actually hurt him.

More here at The Atlantic on the questionable quality of his foreign policy advice in general.

Having said that, if he's the nominee he will be light years better than Trump, Pence, or whatever other disgrace the Republicans choose, and I'll give money and time to get Biden elected.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Putting down a marker on eating the ICE infrastructure away

Been looking for data like this for a long time:






Turns out that California Energy Commission has gasoline data, lots of gasoline data. I downloaded and edited the data above.

I've argued since 2013 that as EVs start taking up significant market share, the gas station and repair infrastructure for internal combustion engines will start to shrink and become less convenient. A similar-but-distinguishable process will happen with increasing ICE mileage, but that process stabilizes because even high mileage ICE vehicles still need gas and will pay enough to stabilize the number of stations. As EVs eat into the ICE infrastructure, the ICE market just gets less convenient and the shift to EVs accelerates in a virtuous feedback.

The effect will be especially strong when people consciously notice the ICE infrastructure is getting less convenient, but that's not required. And I fully admit the more important factor, for now, is EVs becoming more convenient. Still, a choice of EV versus ICE turns in part on the relative convenience of the choice, and increasing inconvenience for ICE will have an increasing effect.

Oslo would be the best place to test this, but I can't find their data. San Francisco Bay Area isn't a bad alternative. This doesn't constitute proof yet - 2016 was the highest year in the dataset, and it would be bold to claim the 2017 decline is from EV share of the fleet mileage traveled, but let's watch this space.