Thursday, July 31, 2008

I feel the need to quote this at length, from Climate Progress:
But let me begin at the beginning. Obama, as everyone knows, has presented detailed national strategies to reduce oil consumption as part of his climate plan months ago (see “Obama’s excellent energy and climate plan“). Now the right wing is all agog at some remarks Obama made yesterday about what individuals can do:

“We could save all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling if everybody was just inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups. You could save just as much.”

Limbaugh said:

This is unbelievable! My friends, this is laughable of course, but it’s stupid! It is stupid! … Avoid jackrabbit starts, keep your tires properly inflated, there’s a list of about ten or twelve these things. I said if I follow each one of these things I’ll have to stop the car every five miles, siphon some fuel out, for all the fuel I’m going to be saving. This is ridiculous…. Who has filled his head with this stuff?

Actually, it is probably the Bush administration’s own Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency that has filled him with that stuff. Let’s do the math.

First, America consumes about 22 million barrels of oil a day. According to a recent EPA report, “light-duty vehicles account for approximately 40 percent of all U.S. oil consumption,” or about 9 million barrels of oil a day.

Strange as it may seem, the Bush/Cheney DOE and EPA jointly run a website,, that provides recommendations to consumers for saving fuel. And it quantifies the savings. First, we have the recommendations for


* Keep Your Engine Properly Tuned: Fixing a car that is noticeably out of tune or has failed an emissions test can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4 percent, though results vary based on the kind of repair and how well it is done. Fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve your mileage by as much as 40 percent.
* Check & Replace Air Filters Regularly: Replacing a clogged air filter can improve your car’s gas mileage by as much as 10 percent. Your car’s air filter keeps impurities from damaging the inside of your engine. Not only will replacing a dirty air filter save gas, it will protect your engine.
* Keep Tires Properly Inflated: You can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.4 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer.
* Use the Recommended Grade of Motor Oil: You can improve your gas mileage by 1-2 percent by using the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil. For example, using 10W-30 motor oil in an engine designed to use 5W-30 can lower your gas mileage by 1-2 percent. Using 5W-30 in an engine designed for 5W-20 can lower your gas mileage by 1-1.5 percent. Also, look for motor oil that says “Energy Conserving” on the API performance symbol to be sure it contains friction-reducing additives.

Okay, let’s say we had a real president who actually cared about ending our addiction to oil during a time we are at war in the Persian Gulf. Let’s say he made a major effort to work with the governors and the mayor is to educate the public and perhaps had an economic stimulus package that included vouchers for low income people to get their car tuned up.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Limits on sprawling development are critical to reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions as the U.S. population expands, U.S. EPA says in a new draft report.

Development in urban and suburban areas is expected to increase by at least 56 percent by 2100 and could expand as much as 156 percent, the draft says, leading to more asphalt and concrete and stress on watersheds affected by dirty stormwater runoff from the developed areas. Scientists say some areas will see stronger storms -- and thus more runoff -- as temperatures warm.
Via eenews (subscription required, but if you're a university student, your university probably subscribes). The drought in North Carolina was what first made me aware (yes, I'm a bit of a latecomer) of one of the central problems of the urbanization and sub-urbanization of the U.S. As cement builds up, less water is absorbed into the ground and there is more runoff, impacting watersheds. This is, of course, a preliminary analysis. The conclusion that the EPA comes to is that a large number of impervious surfaces (roads, sidewalks, buildings) increases regional vulnerability to drought, pollution, etc. You can download the full report here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

July 25: Changed the Creative Commons license. Got rid of the share and share alike. That means that you can now (although I don't see why you would) quote my blog in a book published at a for-profit press. I also made it so that you can't comment anonymously anymore. Libertarians can hate me all they want.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cockroaches are not as hardy as you might think. They are less resistant to radiation than fruit flies, for example, but they can live without a head (although they will eventually die of starvation).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gerry has a very insightful post at culture monkey, discussing Zizek's anti-ecology. He points out that Zizek is correct in pointing to the problem of entropy and the reality that human society and the Earth's ecology will eventually fail no matter how much work is done to preserve. However, Gerry argues that Zizek errs in arguing against the "ecology of fear and finitude" is that finitude is a necessary adjunct of political awareness and action, that finitude is the ground of all future action. I bristle every time I hear a Marxist accuse Capitalism of just "tinkering" in order to reach a false Utopia. The false Utopia is true, but I believe that tinkering is a necessary part of human life, that we can only approach problems from a finite state, and therefore we need to deal with them on a more or less ad hoc basis (although I don't want to undercut forethought, analysis, and prediction).

Gerry's post also got me thinking about something else. Gerry mentioned the Mars Trilogy and the plan to terraform Mars, as advocated by Robert Zubrin and the Mars Society. This idea appeals to a fantasy of expansion and colonization, the exploration of other planets and so forth. And I don't believe that setting up a scientific colony on Mars is an impossibility (although I don't think I'd advocate it). However, rarely is the question posed: why bother? Mars, like Antarctica, is cold, desolate, and low in natural resources. Moreover, the shipment of food, building material, and anything humans might need to survive would create enormous expenses. A place that has virtually no exports and almost 100% imports would have to be one of three things: a scientific colony funded by governments and corporations, a tourist spot inhabited by multi-millionaires, or an incredibly poor and desolate colony in constant need of aid from the outside. This last one makes no sense, because people couldn't travel all that distance without the money to take them there. The first one makes sense, but like Antarctica, it would remain sparsely populated. It would, of course, be of less scientific interest than Antarctica, because the information gathered on Mars would be less applicable to life on Earth. And the tourist vacation for rich people also makes very little sense. The rich tend to prefer comfort over adventure. All in all, the amount of excitement and energy expended on Mars seems out of proportion with the potential gains. And the potential for success seems less an exciting prospect than the telos of all our dystopian fears.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I've been kind of a one-trick pony for a while now, only commenting on environmental issues, despite the fact that this is not, specifically, an environmental blog, but rather, as I see it, a clearinghouse for information and a sounding board. So I thought I'd bring up the Emmy Awards. The nominees just got released and, once again, The Wire did not receive a nomination for Outstanding Drama Series. Moreover, it got only one nomination, Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. The title of the AP analysis pretty much sums it up, "'The Wire' gets 1 final Emmy snub":
"It's like them never giving a Nobel Prize to Tolstoy," said Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief of the Slate Group and a correspondent for "It doesn't make Tolstoy look bad, it makes the Nobel Prize look bad."
The series that did receive the nomination for Outstanding Drama are Boston Legal, Damages, Dexter, House, Lost, Mad Men. I'd like to come up with a good explanation for why the show got snubbed. A lot of people are discussing the race issue, which may very well be the case. My father has a friend in television, and he expressed his disdain for The Wire as follows:
Me: My favorite show on TV is The Wire.
Him: Oh, you like that? I heard the creator, David Simon, is a real Nazi about research.
So there you have it. Television does not like a well-researched show. But it does apparently like shows (24, Dexter) about people who do bad to do good. Maybe there's a fantasy among TV people that all the rotten things that they do and rotten shows they produce are actually for the greater good of society.
For the record, the television guy who said that makes disgustingly high-tech kids' shows that are little more than high-octane exercise videos.

Friday, July 18, 2008

So I guess there have been rumors that the American Physical Society reversed its stance on global warming. These rumors are simply not true. One editor from a non-peer reviewed newsletter under its aegis made the claim, not the entire society. The APS issued a response, a selection of which follows:
APS Position Remains Unchanged

The American Physical Society reaffirms the following position on climate change, adopted by its governing body, the APS Council, on November 18, 2007:

“Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate.”

An article at odds with this statement recently appeared in an online newsletter of the APS Forum on Physics and Society, one of 39 units of APS. The header of this newsletter carries the statement that “Opinions expressed are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the APS or of the Forum.” This newsletter is not a journal of the APS and it is not peer reviewed.
Joe Romm has a thorough debunking of this article at Climate Progress:
What Marque has does is so beyond the realm of real scientific debate that he should be fired from his editorial position. In the July issue of the newsletter of the APS Forum on Physics and Society, Marque wrote:

"With this issue of Physics & Society, we kick off a debate concerning one of the main conclusions of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body which, together with Al Gore, recently won the Nobel Prize for its work concerning climate change research. There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for the global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution."

Apparently Marque hasn’t quite caught onto the scientific method. Aside from the fact that he doesn’t name a single scientist who does not agree with the conclusion, it is quite irrelevant as to whether there are some scientists who don’t agree with the scientific understanding. As I’ve written, “What matters is scientific findings — data, not opinions. The IPCC relies on the peer-reviewed scientific literature for its conclusions, which must meet the rigorous requirements of the scientific method and which are inevitably scrutinized by others seeking to disprove that work. That is why I cite and link to as much research as is possible, hundreds of studies in the case of this article. Opinions are irrelevant.”

Sunday, July 13, 2008

At first, I thought this was an Onion article, then I realized it wasn't:
The American leader [Bush], who has been condemned throughout his presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended a private meeting with the words: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy looked on in shock.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I've seen some bat-shit insane global warming denials, but I think this posting at the NY times dotearth blog takes the cake:

It strikes me as “smelly” that, in a cooling world, CO2 has morphed into “greenhouse gas emissions”, just as “global warming” transmogrified itself into “climate change”.

This fiasco needs to be exposed for the dark and spiteful tax and control exercise it so obviously is. Soon. Before it gets really cold. Are we meant to believe that the leaders of “the world’s major economies” have not been told that the Sun has gone out - and what that means.

— Posted by Terry