Saturday, November 30, 2019

Off-topic: websites I read in sequence this a.m.

First was Masahiko Amakasu bio in wikipedia:

In 1940, Amakasu produced Shina no yoru ("China Nights")....the film told the story of a Chinese woman Kei Ran whose parents had been killed in the war by a Japanese bombing raid and was violently anti-Japanese as a result. A handsome and caring young Japanese naval officer Tetsuo Hase falls in love with her, but she resists his advance until he violently slaps her face, despite her tears and begging him to stop, and after which she declares her love for him. After being slapped into declaring her love, she apologizes for anti-Japanese statements, and in a true Pan-Asian union, the two are married and lived happily ever after. The film was and still is very controversial in China, with most Chinese feeling especially humiliated by the face slapping scene with its suggestion that all one has to do is slap around a Chinese woman to make her love one. The Japanese historian Hotta Eri argued the cultural nuances of Shina no yoru were lost on Chinese audiences. In Japan....both the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, officers routinely slapped the faces of the men under their command when giving orders, which was portrayed not as an exercise in petty humiliation, but as an act of love, with His Imperial Majesty's officers acting as the surrogates for the Emperor, who had to discipline his "children" by having their faces slapped all the time.

Then from World War II Today (fantastic website btw) on the treatment of POWs in Nagasaki:

Another problem was dropsy (an accumulation of water in the tissues), and in these cases numerous trips to the toilets became a necessity, especially at night.

Those who made the lavatory trip were usually in a great hurry but first the permission of the guards on duty had to be obtained. POWs had to bow and say ‘Banjo-ari-ma-sen’ (Toilet please). On the return trip another bow to the guard was required and an ‘Arigato’ (Thank you).

Some of the guards were bloody-minded and instead of allowing the man straight through they kept him waiting for no apparent reason. This delay was sometimes disastrous. The result caused great amusement for the guard and also earned the unfortunate man a few slaps on the face.

The argument that slapping=love seems a bit weakened.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Alternative history: solar PV development in World War 2

I'm partly inclined to a chaos theory of history where lots of outcomes are contingent. Alternative history (wiki pedantically insists on "counterfactual history") can explore what could have been.

So, could solar PV have gone through development boost during World War 2? Solar panels were first deployed in 1884 and researched intermittently afterwards. What if someone with sufficient political power during the war got a research program together on solar power for military purposes - could they have done anything with it?

My answer is a limited yes. These would've been selenium cells, not the silicon chips discovered in the 1950s. At 1% efficiency, that's good enough to recharge batteries for radios, lights, maybe other tools (weather instruments?). Isolated outposts in the Pacific and commando operations in Southeast Asia and Europe could've benefited from this.

The effect on the war likely would've been a modest benefit for whichever side used them (Japan could've benefited as much as the Allies) but unlikely to be a gamechanger. The only exception might be in the Pacific where the outcome of naval battles seem to rely so much on chance, so that slightly better information about enemy forces could've affected individual battle outcomes. Still, in the long run the Axis was doomed pretty much regardless and the question is only how fast they would lose.

For solar panels and climate change, the effect would be slightly better. The first practical use of solar PV was on spacecraft in the early 1960s, and the second about 5-10 years later was on isolated outposts like oil rigs and navigation buoys. That second use could've been discovered in the 1940s instead of 25 years later. By itself that does little to reduce emissions, but it might have accelerated the declining cost curve for solar power - not by 25 years, but by some amount.

So that's a might've been. And even in the real history, World War 2 did have an effect on solar PV because it accelerated rocket technology and eventual satellite development, where PV was valuable regardless of price. A small benefit at a horrendous cost in life.

Two other possibilities - first, I don't know the power requirements of World War 2 radars but I imagine they could be powered by batteries. That means outposts could be monitoring ship movement and weather at night, making them much more effective if solar PV kept them charged up. Radar wasn't totally a secret during the war btw, just the most advanced forms, so the Allies could've deployed this without risking their advantage. I'd guess this would have somewhat more effect on the war, but little additional effect on solar PV implementation.

A second, more out-there alternative history imagines that the electric vehicles of the 1910s and 1920s continued to be developed up to World War 2. Having military vehicles powered by solar PV could've had strong effects on the war. Patton's breakout from Normandy was eventually stopped by a lack of fuel, not by the Germans. Interesting to imagine how it could've gone if after a day of recharge, even some of the units could keep pushing forward. It's also hard to imagine recharging a tank on solar panels, though, but even if you only have electric bikes and motorcycles, that could be useful during the war, and maybe help keep electric vehicles in production afterwards.

Some interesting timelines, but we have to deal with the one we've got instead, and make the best use of it.

Friday, November 22, 2019

My Mercury News Op-Ed on denial over land use and California wildfires (with a mention of climate change)

Not really about climate change denial, which is a second-degree problem in California, but the Op-Ed opposes dispersed sprawl development in the countryside. And that has a terrible carbon footprint.

Link here, and the original text below:

 As still more wildfires hit California this fall, we remain in denial about the primary cause of our disastrous wildfire risks. Climate change contributes to wildfire now and will grow even further in importance, but it is not currently the primary risk factor and not subject to denial here in climate-conscious California. Similarly, there’s no denial of the need for certain helpful actions, using different building materials and setting prescribed fires to burn out fuel loads before they get out of control. These acknowledged issues also are not the primary drivers of wildfire risks, although they dominate the discussion and potential actions by government agencies.
The primary factor creating wildfire risk is land use, specifically the extent to which we scatter residential development in wildland areas, like lighter fluid on a bundle of wood. California county and city governments do not acknowledge this fact in their own “mini-constitutions,” their General Plans. Until they do – and then take action to do something about it – wildfire history will continue to tragically repeat itself.
Research has made clear that the greatest risk of losing a home to fire comes from land use decisions that disperse development across the Wildand-Urban Interface, the so-called “WUI”.  You can map this risk rising and falling like a hill on a graph, where risk is low at very low density development in the WUI, rises high in the middle level of density, and then drops low again with increased density approaching suburban lots. Research from Dr. Alexandra Syphard of the Conservation Biology Institute, and by many others, has demonstrated the problem.
In wilder areas with few residences, the chances of a human-caused ignition are low, and the space for a fire to burn out without harming anyone are higher. In places with suburban residential densities or greater density, the amount of trees and brush that catch and carry fire are lower, fire stations are closer and quicker to respond, and multiple homes can be protected at the same time. Between the two with the highest level of risk is the worst of all worlds, where residences are scattered liberally as ignition sources will plenty of wildland fuels to threaten life and property. That worst of all worlds is what land use planning for rural areas usually designates in county General Plans, as well as many cities that also oversee undeveloped lands.
Look at the General Plans for Santa Clara County, Contra Costa County, and Sonoma County, and you will not find an acknowledgment of land use patterns as the primary driver of fire risk. At best they have some suggestion of minimizing development in fire hazard areas, not an acknowledgment that this development is the core problem. These three counties are now revising their General Plans, and now is the time to fix this problem.
Counties and cities need first to get over the denial and to expressly acknowledge that scattering new development in the WUI is currently the primary driver of wildfire risk. Then they start doing something about it. Doing something would not mean forcing people out, but it could put strong restrictions on new development and give alternatives to people after a wildfire who do want to leave.
The good news is that while land use planning doesn’t yet acknowledge the problem, recognition is increasing in the media and in public discussion. We need the land use driver of wildfire risk to be acknowledged where it counts most, in county and city General Plans. Just like climate change, we must acknowledge and end this denial in order to have a chance to overcome it.

Monday, November 18, 2019

It wasn't attempted bribery - it was bribery

Republicans claim that Trump's aim of using governmental funding to obtain a fraudulent investigation by a foreign power as a way to skew the 2020 election doesn't matter because the withholding "didn't happen" and the money was released.

It did happen.

The money was withheld for two months, possibly longer. Ambassador Taylor learned about it in mid-July (it happened sometime earlier than that), the Ukrainians knew about the hold in mid-August, and it was released on September 11 after public pressure caused by the whistleblower's complaint. For a country at war with a more powerful neighbor occupying part of its land, this withholding period isn't nothing.

Whether Ukraine gave in to the bribe offer in some form is immaterial, but it did. In addition to the well-known plan to announce an investigation during a CNN interview, Ukraine announced it is "auditing" the past investigations of Burisima. Trump didn't exactly get the fraudulent investigation he actually wanted, and it wasn't announced on CNN, but he did get the investigation he claimed to want.

Again, the difference between attempted bribery and completed bribery is immaterial as to whether Trump should be removed from office, but regardless, it was bribery that withheld military aid from a friendly nation under threat from an adversarial power.

Finally, each time Republicans talk about how important it was that Trump ultimately released military aid that Obama opposed, they're complimenting the whistleblower, because it's the whistleblower's action that got the aid released. (And of course, Obama did provide non-lethal military aid, wasn't violating Congressional direction, and had reasonable policy arguments for his position, but all that is ignored in the Republican talking point.)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Some notes on Economic Policy Innovations to Combat Climate Change

I attended this a few weeks ago (below is the opening, click here for the whole thing):

My impressions:

Mary Nichols, Cal. Air Resources Board – 
  • Seemed to somewhat deemphasize regulatory approach as opposed to cap and trade
  • CARB future efforts: 
            *Technology to facilitate carbon sequestration (might have been talking about direct capture)
            *Better ag/soils standard to retain/sequester carbon

Larry Goulder –
  • China moving to nationwide cap and trade by end of year, doubling the amount of carbon subject ot market regulation. Doing it as much for local pollution issues as for climate change itself.
  • Both Larry and one other (Christy Goldfuss?) emphasized tradeable performance standards as a bridge to a carbon price. Christy(?) mentioned that in Canada, one option for a performance standard is to pay a tax.
  • Larry also cautioned that tps might lock in and make carbon pricing less likely

Chris Field – 
  • We’re assuming geoengineering is technically simple and cheap, but we don’t really know, and it would be very difficult to uniformly cool things down, let alone not change other weather patterns.
  • Particularly concerned about BECCS and how it would consume as much land area as all of current agriculture

Lucas Davis – 
  • What keeps me up at night is potential air conditioning in low and middle income countries

Roberton Williams – 
  • Remember regulations can also be regressive. Paying rich people to drive Teslas has regressive effects.

My thoughts: what Chris said about BECCS is especially important and depressing. I've been counting on it to save our bacon. Maybe there's still a way to do it that doesn't consume as much land (algae plots floating over the ocean?).

We in California like to think we're ahead of everyone. I wonder if Mary Nichols' comments reflect that - negative emissions is great IMO but we've also got a lot to do just to knock down our emissions.

In case it's not obvious, the forum had something of a free-market slant. Not all the speakers of course, and there's nothing wrong with discussing those solutions, but just acknowledging the slant here.

Lucas' comments on air conditioning is unsettling. Add to that the effect of increased meat consumption as countries develop and then we have a real problem.

See also, this Twitter thread from John Mashey on a recent forum including Chris Field and Katherine Hayhoe.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Renewables finally getting credit they deserve for driving out coal

Murray Energy filed for bankruptcy yesterday, and Robert Murray is out of a job. Couldn't happen to a nicer fellow or company. I do regret what will happen to retiree pensions and to employees, although Democrats want to help them while Republicans refuse. The lesson to any current coal worker under the age of 55 should be clear though - get out, get out, get out.

With luck, this will throw a monkey wrench into Murray's efforts to throw a monkey wrench into policies addressing climate change, as money spent on lobbying would be viewed skeptically by a bankruptcy judge. OTOH, Murray has a deal with major creditors (but not unions) so emerging from court supervision could happen quickly. We'll see how much the court protects employees and other creditors.

Some excerpts from the bankruptcy filing, and my commentary and emphasis added:

The thermal coal markets that Murray traditionally serves have been meaningfully
challenged over the past three to four years, and deteriorated significantly in the last several
months. This sector-wide decline has been driven largely by (a) the closure of approximately
93,000 megawatts of coal-fired electric generating capacity in the United States, (b) a record
production of inexpensive natural gas, and (c) the growth of wind and solar energy, with gas and
renewables, displacing coal used by U.S. power plants.

For years, lukewarmers have given all credit to reduced emissions to natural gas, now even coal producers are admitting the truth. Murray had to cast a little shade though by not expressly admitting renewables are cheaper, implying that government policies are the problem.

At the same time, demand for U.S. coal from international utilities has been subject to its own perfect storm of negative forces, and the European benchmark price for thermal coal has halved in the last year

Trump gets his share of the shade for trade wars (pay attention, workers). European renewable efforts should get their share of the credit for reducing coal demand.

At the same time, Murray has had to rebate cash to certain customers under price sharing arrangements as a result of low pricing in the PJM Interconnection

I didn't know about this. Murray scored deals with utilities by (theoretically) taking on the risk that its product could get undercut by gas or renewables. So here's a question - did the utilities pay in advance and now won't get their rebates because of bankruptcy? If so, then the public is stuck with subsidizing coal when cheaper and lower emission supplies are available. This practice should be regulated, and maybe regulators should make the utility companies eat the costs, instead of ratepayers. Even if utilities didn't pay in advance, the best they can do now is walk away and see what short term pricing they can get, which is a gamble.

Competitors have used bankruptcy to reduce debt and lower their cost structures by eliminating cash interest obligations and pension and benefit obligations, leaving them better positioned to compete for volume and pricing in the current market, 

Pretty clear what Murray intends to do in bankruptcy. Pay attention, coal workers.

As of December 31, 2018, Murray owns and operates 26 harbor boats and towboats, 478 barges, 15 locomotives, 748 railcars, and 25 coal hauling tractor trailers (exclusive of non-debtor Foresight operations).

I wonder if this adds to the reason why railroad companies fight efforts to address climate change. Not only do they haul a lot of coal, coal companies are also their direct customers.

In June 2015, Murray Global Commodities, Inc. entered into a joint partnership agreement for a 34 percent interest in non-debtor Javelin Global Commodities Holdings LLP (together with its direct and indirect subsidiaries, “Javelin”).

Elsewhere it says that Javelin is one of their major international customers, which they apparently partly own. I wonder if it's a stalking horse for Murray to interfere in foreign politics to promote coal usage.

As of the Petition Date, Robert E. Murray holds all of the issued and outstanding voting Class A common shares

All other shares are non-voting, so Robert has (had?) full control of Murray. He's a serious bad guy, so whether he emerges with full control or any control is an important issue.

On June 29, 2018, Murray entered into the Superpriority Credit and Guaranty Agreement (as amended, restated, amended and restated, supplemented, or otherwise modified from time to time, the “Superpriority Term Loan Agreement”)

This involves some of the senior creditors who are going to do the best at the other end of bankruptcy. The question in my mind is the date. At such a recent date, the risk of bankruptcy should have been clear and the possibility of a sweetheart deal at the expense of employees, retirees, and other creditors should be investigated. Does Robert Murray or family have any ownership of the senior creditors? Some other recent debt listed in the doc raises similar issues.

Following the large wave of chapter 11 filings in 2015 and 2016, more than half a
dozen large U.S. coal companies collapsed into bankruptcy over the last several years and
withdrew from the 1974 Pension Plan. When an employer withdraws, its vested beneficiaries
remain in the 1974 Pension Plan and are referred to as “orphan” beneficiaries. The remaining
contributing employers become responsible for the benefits of these orphaned participants who
were never their employees. As a result, approximately 95 percent of beneficiaries who currently
receive benefits from the 1974 Pension Plan last worked for employers that no longer contribute
to the Plan. As of January 2019, 11 employers contribute to the 1974 Pension Plan, compared to
over 2,800 in 1984. This has placed significant stress on the 1974 Pension Plan and the small
number of contributing employers—Murray most of all.

Pretty good summary of how effed up coal worker pensions are.

remaining coal-fired power plants are running at capacity factors of just 42 percent versus 48 percent in 2013.

It's not just plant closures, the still-open plants are running at lower rates.

Murray maintains its belief that longer term demand for coal is underpinned in the
United States by a practical requirement that approximately 25 percent of the power supplied to
the electrical grid come from coal power
generation to ensure reliable electricity during cold snaps
and heat waves, when other parts of the grid will be less reliable or overly expensive. This belief
has guided Murray’s decisions to make value-accretive acquisitions during general market distress,

That 25% figure is debatable to say the least, and not to mention that it could come from nuclear, large hydro, natural gas and eventually from power storage. Also, their acquisition strategy has been to double down on coal. How's that worked out?


That's it for the main bankruptcy filing. Definitely worth it for someone to look at the restructuring agreement.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

White nationalists, please go ahead and actually study climate change

Over the summer, there was a smattering of concern over white nationalists who depart from the usual right-wing, conspiratorial denial of climate change. Instead they incorporate the threat of climate immigration as part of their "Great Replacement" theory of white suicide.

This is no joking matter when it comes to mass murderers like the El Paso Walmart killer. The racists' relationship to climate change can't become particularly deep, however. Anything more than the shallowest understanding of climate that still accepts the science will clearly affix blame, and that blame doesn't belong to Syrian, African, and Latin American refugees. Any real understanding would put pressure, at least somewhat, on their racist ideology. Short of actual understanding, they could still seize upon climate change as yet another poorly-thought-out excuse for hatred, but that misuse is possible for any headline. Racists should study the issue itself and take the chance to reconsider their ideology.

The broader issue of environmentalism overlapping with racism is trickier though because population growth is a real-if-secondary factor in environmental harm, with the environmental footprint of each individual being the primary driving factor. Immigration doesn't increase population globally but does increase it in the receiving nation. The problem, ironically, is the opposite of what racists normally think: immigrants don't fail to assimilate but rather assimilate just fine, leaving behind the small individual footprint of the country they left and taking on the massive footprint of the rich country they joined.

Not all the time, of course. When I was campaigning for a water district election during California's drought, I came across an older Indian woman in a wealthier neighborhood, carefully handwashing her car from a bucket. She said nobody had to educate her about water conservation, she immigrated here with that knowledge. Good on her, but I don't know that her kids or grandkids would have the same habits.

Racists are going to misuse the overpopulation issue. They have to be fought when they do that, while still acknowledging overpopulation is an issue. Reducing population growth in the richest countries, along with reducing the individual footprints, should be a priority. Reducing that footprint could even make it easier to accommodate more immigration, rather than fighting immigration.