Sunday, August 29, 2021

A Worthwhile Effort, part 3

                                                                                                           written 22 Aug 2021

                                                                                                       published 29 Aug 2021


            In "A Worthwhile Effort, part 2", I estimated that a 50% reduction in carbon emissions within Mendocino County requires increasing renewable production about 450 megawatts (MW) by 2030, averaging 60MW per year.  Locating this additional production within the county would avoid expensive grid upgrades to transport the expanded load, and increase local power resiliency.  The latest IPCC report suggests decreasing grid reliability as the climate emergency grows.  Fires this summer have already caused wide spread Public Safety Power Shutdowns across northern California, although most of Mendocino County has been unaffected so far.

            Grid scale arrays take 2-3 acres per megawatt, so we need about 150 acres each year.  Experience shows that grazing and many crops thrive in the shade of arrays, so some agricultural land can serve dual purposes.  Within urban areas with little open land, arrays have been placed on closed landfills, floated on sewer plant and water reclamation ponds, placed on roof tops, and on canopies over parking areas.  The Ukiah Unified School District recently put canopy arrays on parking lots at three of their sites outside the City.  Within Ukiah City limits there are more than 75 acres of parking lots and 25 acres of large roof tops.  The 37 acres of sewer percolation ponds must be exempted as an important waterfowl flyway resource, but the 25 acres of water reclamation ponds should be considered.  Ukiah is in the process of annexing 640 acres of land in the western hills, some of which might have solar potential.  

            All Ukiah City, and Mendocino County, land and facilities should be inventoried for potential solar installation, supporting not only normal operations, but with an eye toward emergency power preparedness.  For example, the Mendocino County complex at Low Gap Road, with about 8 acres of roof top and parking lots, has several critical functions (administration, sheriff, motor pool, jail, and juvenal detention) which would make this a good candidate for an emergency micro-grid.   

            Increasing distributed storage is also important.  Every MW of array should have about 4 megawatt hours (MWhr) of storage, requiring adding 240 MWhr a year for the next 8 years.  This requires about 4 acres per year, since a 1MWhr battery fits in a single 40' container.  Storage should be located at every array to smooth out the load on the grid.  In addition, storage should be installed at every substation within the county, allowing power to be prepositioned, avoiding grid congestion during periods of high demand, increasing grid efficiency and power resiliency for the local distribution systems serviced by that substation.  The best design would also have a large array near each substation, further increasing local power resilience.

            Since the power in Mendocino county is already mostly carbon free, adding more renewable power production is only a first step toward real emission reductions, because it is the heating and transportation portion of our emissions that requires the most extensive transformation.  

            In the last few years, the global automotive industry has begun a massive retooling to produce electric vehicles (EVs), with ranges increasing and prices dropping.  Many automotive companies have announced an end to internal combustion production in the near future, and financial institutions are divesting from further fossil fuel development projects.  However, the charging infrastructure needs rapid expansion for EVs to become a significant portion of our transportation economy. 

            Even though charging times are getting shorter, long-distance driving is still difficult.  But most driver's needs can be met by charging overnight at home, which should be promoted.  Locating multiple EV charging stations at City and County motor pool locations would power expanded County and City EV fleets, in addition to offering multiple stations for staff and daily customers.  All the school bus fleets should be electric, and charged overnight at their central bus barns.   

            Given our partisan polarities, this massive transformation may seem foolishly naive.  Some believe that it is already too late, or that Earth would be better with no humans.  However, I believe humanity is more than we have so far manifested: that we can transcend the Us/Them illusion, and nurture all life on Earth.  But we are now at the "do or die" phase for this species: the middle ground is gone.  Without immediate massive effort, we have little chance of having a functioning economy by the end of a 30-year mortgage.  



Sunday, August 22, 2021

Vote NO On Recall

                                                                                                           written 16 Aug 2021

                                                                                                       published 22 Aug 2021



            For decades, Republicans have been promoting the idea that government is always the problem, and private enterprise will save us all.  To drive the point home, whenever Republicans have control, they govern for the benefit of corporations and the very wealthy, and refuse to help anyone else: defunding social systems and trying to privatize them.  

            Public health is one of the most critical functions of government, and poorly suited to private profit.  The recent Covid pandemic has brought this reality front and center.  To protect people from infectious disease, everyone needs to be treated, without regard to income, because being surrounded by sick people is not healthy for a robust economy.  But it is impossible to make a profit from poor people.  The US has such a dysfunctional health care system because it is provided mostly through the profit driven insurance model. 

            Trump denied the reality of Covid, and, in typical Republican fashion, refused to mobilize the national government for a response.  We saw Republican governors suggesting that people should be willing to sacrifice their grandparents to keep the economy going.  Now that the vaccine has become widespread, the Republican mantra has shifted: people should be willing to sacrifice their children to keep the economy going.  While it is somewhat traditional for the elders to give way for the future, it is culturally suicidal to sacrifice the children.  But that is what passes for Republican leadership these days.

            Another fundamental role for government is protecting the commons.  This includes maintaining quality of our air, food, and water, by regulating the excessive greed baked into the corporate structure.  Republicans brand such regulation as "job killers": prioritizing exclusive profits over general quality of life.  These days the most extreme issue of this nature is the growing climate emergency, a consequence of accumulated pollution from fossil fuel combustion, another reality that Republicans deny.

            The most recent IPCC report stated the climate we grew up with is effectively gone forever.  The extremes in weather of the last few years are the new normal, with increasing economic costs.  But without concerted human effort, even these disasters will rapidly become the "good old days".  We must radically reduce emissions to have a chance for a functional economy in the near term, and a habitable planet for our children in the long term.  This will require inspired leadership at every level of government.

            So of course, Republicans are trying to recall the governor of California.  Ballots mailed out starting August 16th., and everyone should have received one by now.  We Californians are fortunate to have this convenient voting option.  Republicans are doing their best to eliminate it within the states they control. 

            A recall in California can be launched with just 12% of the voting population.  The recall ballot has two parts: the first asks if Governor Newsom should be recalled, and the second is a vote for his replacement.  If a simple majority votes to recall, the replacement is the person receiving the most votes in the second part.  With 46 Republicans running, Newsom's replacement could take office with the support of less than 2% of the voters.  Only 24% of voters in California are registered Republican, so this recall format is the only way they can create minority rule.  

            Newsom is not a perfect person, or even a particularly consistent politician.  However, the Democratic party is more aligned with reality than anything the Republicans have supported for many decades.  And now is a time when we need leaders who can at least look at the real problems, giving us a chance to actually solve them, which is why it is very important that everyone vote in this election.

            I believe that most Californians are not insane, or deluded by the Cult of Trump, or the even more deranged QAnon psychosis.  I believe that most Californian voters care about the health of their family, and the health of the world we inhabit.  I believe that most voters have co-workers, friends, or family members who are of a different race or sexual preference.  I believe that most Californians are good people.  This Republican assault on our state governance can be easily squelched if we all vote NO on recall, and return our ballots.  While rank and file Republicans may not be insane, their leadership currently is.


Sunday, August 15, 2021

A Worthwhile Effort, part 2

                                                                                                             written 8 Aug 2021

                                                                                                       published 15 Aug 2021


            I recently suggested that listening to people who tell you to drink bleach, or avoid a vaccination, or pretend that climate change is a debatable matter, is suicidally foolish.  

            Last week another California town burned to the ground.  The wind shifted the smoke from the 6 biggest fires in the west, tinting our sunlight orange, adding that "campfire" aroma to the air.  Drought is radically impacting tourism on the Mendocino coast.  Parts of the Amazon Basin are emitting carbon rather than sequestering it: dying rather than growing.  The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current, of which the Gulf Stream is a part, is driven by sinking, cold, salty water coming out of the Arctic, but is slowing alarmingly due to the massive freshwater infusion as Greenland melts.  The climate emergency is already here, and we have little time to change things, assuming that is even possible. The emerging goal is 50% emissions reduction by 2030, 100 months from now.

            On August 3rd, the Mendocino Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to allocate funds to help decarbonize county facilities, for which they should be congratulated.  However, the $2 million committed must be understood to be a token, a modest commitment, in the face of what is required.  The rest of this article begins an exploration of what it will take to achieve the 50% goal. 

            Electricity, transportation, and heating, the three largest portions of the energy sector, are roughly equal in size.  Ukiah, about 1/5 of the county population, consumes an average of 300 megawatt hours (MWhrs) of electricity every day.  We can guesstimate that the rest of the county, serviced mostly by Sonoma Clean Power (SCP), consumes about 1200MWhr/day.  SCP advertises their power is 93% non-carbon sourced, leaving 7% brown power, and Ukiah has 26% brown power in our production portfolio.  To make our county electricity completely emission free, we need another 165MWhr/day of renewable power.  

            Because our electricity sector is close to being emission free, accomplishing a 50% emissions reduction will require significant changes in the transportation and heating portions of our energy usage.  To power that shift, we will need another 1600MWhr/day of renewable energy, in addition to the above 165MWhr/day, for a project total of about 1800MWhr/day.  Furthermore, we will need an equal amount of storage to spread the power throughout the day.  While some of this new power production can be located out of the county, the current grid is already hitting limits carrying the load we now consume.  To avoid very expensive, and time consuming, grid upgrades, it will be advantageous to have most of the new power production located within Mendocino county.

           Assuming each watt of array produces an average of 4 watts per day, installation costs of $3/watt for the arrays, and storage costs of $0.50/Whr, the total comes to about $2B, or $250M per year for 8 years.

            That is a lot of money!  The good news is this level of investment does not have to come from within the county, just as we did not pay for the installation of the existing grid.  The financial world has begun to recognize that extreme weather events are economically devastating, and avoiding them is a prudent investment.  The beauty of renewable energy is the hardware is a fixed expense, while the energy is completely free, making renewables a good, solid, long term investment. 

            America currently pays $1T per year for fossil fuels, and our share in Mendocino county is about $250M per year, which will be reduced by 50% over the 8 years.  In addition, the estimated total fiscal wealth of America is at least $250T, with the Mendocino county share coming to about $60B.  That is what is at risk financially, let alone the value we place on our people and all the other living beings with whom we share this lovely planet. 

            What is missing is the social and political will to make this fundamental change in our economy.  The people who are making good profit off the existing structure have tried to stall this change.  But the change is inevitable, because fossil fuels are finite, and the disruption of the ecosystem has now reached a tipping point in public awareness.  We have a simple choice: make the effort to change, or watch our entire society collapse under increasing climate disruption.



Sunday, August 8, 2021

A Worthwhile Effort, part 1

                                                                                                             written 1 Aug 2021

                                                                                                         published 8 Aug 2021


            The Republican party has abandoned all pretext of actual governance, focusing instead on denying reality and vigorously pushing increasingly absurd lies.  For the last few months, they denied Trump lost, pushing the lie about voter fraud to justify destroying democracy with sweeping voter suppression laws.  For more than a year they denied the reality of Covid, lying that it is a hoax and that vaccination is a fascist ploy, resulting in a new surge that is preferentially sickening and killing their own unvaccinated supporters.  For decades they denied climate change, lying that it is a hoax promulgated by greedy scientist for financial gain, delaying action to avoid the increasingly apparent climate crisis making weekly headlines around the world.

            But reality doesn't care what we believe.  Trump did lose.  Covid is real and surging with a significantly more infectious variant.  Climate change is already here, costing the US almost half a trillion dollars last year alone.  The core of insanity is being in conflict with reality.  The Republican leadership has chosen to go insane, and is willing to destroy their supporters, our country, and the entire planet, to maintain their illusion of power. 

            However, a majority of American aren't willing to sacrifice themselves and their families for such narrow Republican goals.  Covid vaccination rates in red areas are slowly increasing as the Delta variant overwhelms hospitals once again.  Recent polls show that climate change is now the second highest public concern, behind affordable health care.  Even the financial world has realized that extreme weather, let alone a dead planet, is bad for business, and begun to address the climate emergency: changing rules of corporate governance and making massive investments in renewable energy.

            Unfortunately, climate scientists have pulled their punches for years.  Because of the complexity of the problem, unrelenting political pressures from toxic climate deniers, and the need to issue only consensus reports, all the estimates of what will happen, and when, have been very cautious, trying not to scare the public or feed the denial trolls.  The climate is changing faster than the worst-case scenarios, with events happening today that weren't projected to occur for decades yet.  Consequently, to be effective at this late date, real climate response will have to be massive and rapid: a 50% reduction in carbon emissions within 100 months, with extensive carbon sequestration and complete decarbonization of the global economy, as soon as possible.  This may seem like a foolishly ambitious goal, but the alternative is years of accelerating economic misery and increasing infrastructure destruction, leading inevitably to total economic collapse.   

            Completely independent of the growing climate crisis, the remaining fossil fuel resources will be exhausted in four or five decades at current consumption rates, necessitating a complete change to our energy economy.  There is dark debate as to which will take out the economy first, resource depletion or toasting the planet.  

            Massive mobilization occurred in response to World War 2 and the Covid epidemic, as a result of public will, and political leadership.  The good news in all this is that we have technological alternatives which did not exist until relatively recently.  Instead of burning finite, polluting, stored energy, we can begin to live on the abundant energy flux from the sun.

            There are valid reasons to despair this can come to pass, as the solution will require an unprecedented global effort on a planet rife with greed and nationalistic competition.  We can't support our current level of wasteful energy usage, so energy efficiency and local resilience will be necessary parts of the project.  This must benefit everyone on the planet, including all the other life forms, so our patterns of exclusive gain must evolve.  We have been sold the bill of goods that "stuff" will make us free and happy, yet it has never worked, and we have depleted the world attempting to fill a spiritual void with material things.  Quality of life is not the same thing as quantity of things.

            The climate crisis is both a challenge and an opportunity for humanity to grow up and really manifest "peace on Earth".  Even if we fail in our attempt to make this energy transition, the goal is worth the effort, providing the possibility of full employment in meaningful work, creating the possibility of a viable future for our great grandchildren.



Sunday, August 1, 2021

Wetiko: A Mind Virus

                                                                                                           written 25 July 2021

                                                                                                        published 1 Aug 2021


            Every disaster we are confronting results from an error of perspective: believing the illusion of separation within the unity of reality.  

            I recently encountered the concept of "Wetiko", from "Columbus and Other Cannibals", by Jack D. Forbes.  “For several thousands of years human beings have suffered from a plague.  The Algonquin and other Indigenous First Nations identified the mental illness of the white man, upon his arrival to their native homelands, as “Wetiko,” literally translating as cannibalism: the consuming of another’s life for one’s own private purpose or profit.  Brutality knows no boundaries.  Greed knows no limits.  Perversion knows no borders.  This is the disease of the consuming of other creatures’ lives and possessions.  This disease is the greatest epidemic sickness known to man” Forbes concludes.

            Buddhist Paul Levy writes: "Wetiko is a virus of the mind that cultivates and feeds on fear and separation.  A psycho-spiritual illness, it is a psychosis, a sickness of the spirit.  It is a form of mind-blindness that renders us blind to our blindness (i.e., we don’t realize we are blind, but fancy ourselves as clear-seeing).  Becoming aware of wetiko simultaneously dispels its power over us while empowering ourselves.  This is why healing the “cancer of mind blindness", and seeing wetiko, is of such importance."

            "Wetiko is at the very root of every crisis we face: climate change, the threat of nuclear war, social injustice, political malfeasance, financial corruption, endless war etc.  Called by many different names throughout history, the spirit of wetiko renders every other issue secondary, for wetiko is the over-arching umbrella that contains, subsumes, informs and underlies every form of self-and-other destruction that our species is acting out, seemingly uncontrollably, in our world today on every scale.  The less wetiko is recognized, however, the more seemingly powerful, and dangerous it becomes."

            This is what wetiko looks like in America.  

            Jeff Bezos, worth more than $200B, spent millions successfully preventing his employees from unionizing for a living wage, but paid $100M for his recent 11-minute space jaunt.  

            The Supreme Court strengthened rules allowing zombie corporations to buy elections, while making it harder for real people to vote. 

            A majority of Americans want affordable single payer health care, like every other advanced nation, but Republican leadership zealously opposes this, protecting the profits of the health insurance industry. 

            It is another record hot summer.  Massive water shortage threatens the western states. Smoke for western fires darkens the skies along the east coast.  The northeast cleans up from devastating floods.  Climate change is now the second highest concern with the public.  But Republicans in the Senate held firm to remove every dime proposed to mitigate climate change.  

            Covid cases have increased by a factor of five in the last month, entirely within the unvaccinated population, who's refusal puts them and their family at greatest risk.  Fox News demands their employees carry a Fox Clear Pass (a vaccine passport) to be employed, even as it rails against mandatory vaccine passports as "Nazi intrusion". 

            Lack of empathy is a key component for cannibalism, but when a person starts eating their own body, it passing into true insanity.  We are all infected, but we can each start to heal by beginning to notice wetiko operating within ourselves.

            In spring 2020, peace researcher Martin Winiecki wrote: "Wetiko propagates the deep-seated illusion of seeing oneself desperately confined to the cage of a separated ego.  From this perspective of isolation, others appear either as competitors or as prey.  In a worldview in which fear is the basic condition, fight and exploitation seem rational, empathy ridiculous and sentimental.  We accept an economic system celebrating the biggest-possible devastation of the natural world as “success” due to our own infection with the virus.  Wetiko has numbed our hearts, blurring our ability to perceive both the sacredness and the pain of life, both outside and inside ourselves.  Innumerable beings are perishing due to this chronic inability to feel empathy."

            "But if we begin to see Wetiko playing out within ourselves, it loses its grip on us.  Compassion opens our eyes to understanding that which we previously could only fear, judge or hate.  Compassion and trust are the ultimate anti-viruses of Wetiko.  To awaken from Wetiko is to awaken to the interdependent web of Life, and experience the unambiguous truth that all life is sacred."