Category Archives: environment

Arguing with the climate change deniers over the 97% consensus

I find myself spending more and more time arguing with climate change deniers online. I know that it is an utter waste of my time, since the vast majority of online deniers aren’t seeking truth, but rather validation of their ideological agenda, so it is impossible to convince them no matter how much contrary evidence I present. It is so frustrating visiting web sites like Watts Up With That and junkscience.com that oppose the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, because most people with any knowledge of the field of climate science don’t bother weighing in or have been banned, so the skeptics are largely uncontested when they post utter nonsense. They would get torn to shreds and dismissed as crackpots if they bothered to post their garbage in a legitimate scientific forum, but they are free to spew their specious arguments uncontested on their web sites and an army of ignoramuses online then “like” their posts and vociferously support what they don’t understand. Whenever you get into an argument with one of these ignoramuses, they will link endlessly to these articles as “proof,” which they believe to be just as valid as my links to peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals.

What is even more frustrating is that the deniers appear to be winning the battle online. If you go to YouTube and type in “global warming”, the majority of the videos which are returned by the search will contest the scientific consensus on climate change, and probably also try to convince you that most climate scientists and their supporters are are nefarious people with hidden agendas.

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Why the melting of the Arctic sea ice matters

I’m more than a little frustrated by the ignoramuses online who claim that climate change isn’t happening or is just Mother Nature taking her natural course. Either they scientifically illiterate or amoral sociopaths who don’t care about the consequences of not dealing with greenhouse gas emissions.

NOAA recently graphed the Arctic sea ice extent over the last 1500 years, which clearly shows that the recent loss of Arctic sea ice is not part of some natural cycle:

K. Pistone et al (2014) found that loosing 40% of the Arctic sea ice area between 1979 and 2011 decreased the planetary albedo (reflectivity) over the Arctic from 0.52 to 0.48 and that decrease in the amount of reflected light caused warming that was the equivalent of a quarter of all global CO2 emissions during that time period. We are now on route to losing all summer time sea ice at some point in the next decade or two. Some experts think it could happen as soon as 2020. This probably will double the warming measured by Pistone et al. due to the reduction in the albedo.

Loosing all the Arctic sea ice means a lot more than losing a few polar bears. According to Shakhova et al (2008), there are 1400 gigatonnes of carbon locked up as methane and methane hydrates under the Arctic submarine permafrost. If the Arctic starts melting that methane could escape and cause a dramatic burst in warming. There are indications that the methane is already starting to escape in increasing amounts. It is estimated that roughly 0.5 million tonnes of methane have traditionally been released every year by the Siberian Arctic. In 2006, that amount had increased to 3.8 million tonnes and it was 17 million tonnes in 2013. If this continues to increase at an exponential rate, then we can expect far more warming than is predicted by the IPCC’s CMIP5 climate change models.

What will be the effect of melting the Arctic methane? Nobody is really sure. Currently humans emit roughly 10.9 gigatonnes of carbon per year. According to the CarbonBrief, the global climate budget for a 66% chance of keeping global temperature rise under 2 and 3 degrees C is 219 and 601 gigatonnes of carbon, respectively. Most experts don’t think that all the Arctic methane will leak, but if a quarter of it leaks, then it will effectively double global warming. If all of it leaks, then it might be the end of the human race.

Whither American Democracy: FDR-style reform, revolution or slide into populist dictatorship?

Three people, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, together own $248.5 billion which is as much wealth as 56% of Americans. This level of inequality is unsustainable and I often wonder when the American political system will implode. In other countries, other political parties would have arisen long ago to replace the Republicans and Democrats, but the rules of the US political system make it virtually impossible for an effective third party to come to the fore.

At this point, it is increasingly pointless to call the Republican Party a political party in the traditional sense. A party is supposed to represent the interests of a significant block of voters, but the Republican Party increasingly only represents a tiny percentage of Americans when it comes to economic issues. The new tax bill is a shameless give-away to rich donors, while raising taxes on households making under $75,000 or less over the next decade, raising the national deficit by $1.45 trillion, and taking away the health care of 13 million Americans. Basically it raises taxes by $4.5 trillion over the next decade on the lower and middle classes, in order to give $6 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthy, of which 62% of those tax cuts go to the top 1%. One analysis found that 71.6% of Americans would be worse off, while 5% would benefit from the bill. This is basically a tax bill which says let’s rob from society in general to give to those who already have too much.
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Being willing to evaluate information which contradicts our world view

Every couple weeks I stumble across an article about climate change, and I look in the comments and see that the climate change deniers are out in full force. A rational person would not waste her time, but it annoys me that nobody contests them when they spread misinformation on the internet.

Here is how it typically goes:

Denier: The 97% climate-change consensus is a myth. Emily here is incredibly poorly informed for a TED presenter. Thought this talk was on “I don’t do math” but it’s just another “climate deniers are morons” indoctrination.

Me: No, you are the one that is poorly informed. Read Cook et al. (2013):
http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/…/024024
If you still insist that those 2.9% of peer reviewed articles are correct and the 97.1% are incorrect, then read Benestad et al. (2016):
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00704-015-1597-5
If you are going to keep insisting that the 97% climate-change consensus is a myth, then you are a scientific illiterate, who has no idea how to evaluate scientific evidence.

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Questions about how to reform the electronics industry

A friend of mine asked me why I wrote a recent post about how capitalism has failed to produce a smartphone that I want to buy. Don’t I know that a socialist economy would produce far worse phones, so why am I complaining? Consumer electronics wasn’t exactly a strong point of the Soviet block countries or Maoist China.

I don’t want to live under pure socialism or pure Capitalism because they both lead to too much concentration of power in too few hands. Both are lovely in theory but both lead to dystopias in the real world, especially when practiced in their extremes. However, the vast majority of the world lives in a mixed economy. The real question in almost every society is what areas of the economy should be socialized and what areas should be run by private enterprise which are subject to governmental regulation and what should be the degree of that regulation.
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The planned obsolescence of smartphones

LG was the last major smartphone manufacturer to include replaceable batteries in its flagship phones, but it just joined the rest of the industry in pushing planned obsolescence when it recently released its G6 and V30 without replaceable batteries. Most people don’t buy the overpriced flagship phones, since they cost between $550 and $1150, but they are the reference where the industry is heading, since the features found in these phones will be commonplace in mid-priced phones in a couple years. Based on this year’s crop of flagships, we can expect most smartphones to have dual lens rear cameras, 9:18 OLED screens over 5.7 inches, bezel-less fronts with no physical buttons, glass backs, metal edge frames, and waterproof cases which enclose a non-replaceable battery.

A lithium ion battery lasts roughly 500 full charge and discharge cycles, before its capacity to hold a charge starts to noticeably degrade. If charged and discharged 100% every day, a cell phone’s battery will only last 1.3 years before it needs to be replaced. What degrades a battery is being kept at the extremes of 100% charge or discharge and being exposed to too much heat, which often happens when fast charging. A battery which is always kept between 80% and 20% of its full charge will last for 3000 recharge cycles or 6 times as long. Most people don’t charge and discharge their batteries 100% every day, but they do it enough so most phones batteries generally last around 2 years before the battery needs to be replaced because its ability to hold a charge starts to be significantly degraded. In other words, every high-end phone on the market today now has a life expectancy of roughly 2 years.
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Reflections on building my own solar panels

Over the last decade solar energy has gone from the hobby of oddball engineers and rich eccentrics to a viable way of generating energy for millions of people. Unfortunately, I live in Bolivia, a country where almost nobody uses solar electricity and it is difficult and expensive to import solar panels. Out of curiosity, I wondered whether I could get solar energy by building my own solar panels. I spent a couple weeks investigating how to make my own solar panels online and I would like to share what I found with anyone else who is thinking of building do-it-yourself (DIY) panels.

The idea of being able to generate my own carbon-free energy is very enticing. I live in a country where solar energy only comprises 0.25% of the national grid’s electrical capacity and bad public policy is currently deepening the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. Perhaps my desire to build a solar panel are born out of my sense of frustration at the powerless I feel to change the dirty development and environmentally-destructive policies being promulgated by the Bolivian government. I feel like I have to do something, however small it may be, to resist the relentless march toward the destruction of the planet and humanity’s role in that destruction. In this context, the idea of being able to build my own solar panels and participate in the democratization of energy is very empowering. Continue reading