Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.

Title: Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change 2nd Edition 2015 Product Details
Author(s): Michael E. Mann and Lee E. Kump
ISBN: 978-1-4654-3364-0
Published: 2008,2015 by DK Publishing
Price: $24.95 (hardback)
Length: 224 pages

Author Bios

Dr. Mann has undergraduate degrees in physics and applied math, a Masters degree in Physics, and a Ph.D in Geology and Geophysics. Dr. Mann has published books (The Hockey Stick, The Madhouse Effect) and over 180 peer-reviewed publications on global warming, and has testified in congressional hearings about the subject, as well as made himself available via social media to people with questions on global warming.

Dr. Kump has an undergraduate degree in geophysical sciences and a Ph.D in Marine Science. Dr. Kump has published over 100 peer-reviewed publications on global warming, and his work has appeared in documentaries produced by National Geographic, BBS, NOVA Science-Now, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

These two scientists are far more reliable sources on climate change than special interest commentators with an agenda to cast doubt on climate change. Let’s take a look at their book and see what the scientific data shows.

 

Table of Contents

Introduction – do NOT skip this section! Great intro to climate
PART 1: Climate Change Basics
PART 2: Climate Change Projections
PART 3: The Impacts of Climate Change
PART 4: Vulnerability and Adaption to Climate Change
PART 5: Solving Climate Change

 

INTRODUCTION

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation. ”
http://ipcc.ch/news_and_events/docs/factsheets/FS_what_ipcc.pdf

Dire Predictions explains the findings of the IPCC on climate change, using clear and detailed visual graphics to demonstrate the data in the 5th IPCC assessment.
Note 1: As of 2017, there is a new assessment on the IPCC website (ipcc.ch).
Note 2: The IPCC/Links website page contains links to different government websites that contain climate change information, and the US EPA website no longer contains Climate Change data per President Trump and EPA Admin Pruitt – for pre-Trump information, see  https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/climatechange_.html

 

CLIMATE VS. WEATHER

“We plan our daily activities around the weather. Will it rain? Is a storm or a cold front approaching? Weather is highly variable, and, although considerable improvements in weather forecasting have been made, it is still often unpredictable.

Climate, on the other hand, varies more slowly and is highly predictable. … Climate represents the average of many years’ worth of weather. This averaging process smooths out the individual blips caused by droughts and floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, and blizzards and downpours, while emphasizing the more typical patterns of temperature highs and lows and precipitation amounts.”
Introduction, Dire Predictions

Sen. James Inhofe (republican, Oklahoma) received a BA from the University of Tulsa in 1973, when he was nearly 40 yrs old, which is commendable. Checking his biography (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Inhofe and https://www.inhofe.senate.gov/biography), t I was unable to find out what he studied for his undergraduate degree, nor could I find any graduate school credentials for the senator. On Feb 25, 2015, Sen. James Inhofe appeared at the US senate and used a snowball for the reason his does not believe that global warming is happening (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/02/26/jim-inhofes-snowball-has-disproven-climate-change-once-and-for-all/). Yes, a person elected by the people of Oklahoma to represent them in government doesn’t understand the basic difference between weather and climate.

For the sake of people that don’t understand the difference between weather and climate, let’s summarize:
WEATHER: highly variable and unpredictable.
CLIMATE: varies slowly and highly predictable.
CLIMATE REPRESENTS THE AVERAGE OF MANY YEARS WORTH OF WEATHER.

THINGS THAT INFLUENCE CLIMATE

  1. Latitude (location on the Earth)
  2. The oceans
  3. The atmosphere
  4. Atmospheric Circulation – the Hadley Circulation

Fascinating information about ice ages in this section. When they did and didn’t occur.

 

GREENHOUSE GASES

It is important to understand what greenhouse gases are, since climate change deniers often attempt to claim these are not important or that science is wrong is stating certain things are greenhouse gases. According to scientists that actually study climate science:

“Greenhouse gases exist naturally in Earth’s atmosphere in the form of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and other trace gases, but atmospheric concentrations of some greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are being increased as a result of human activity. This increase occurs primarily as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, but also through deforestation and agricultural practices. Certain greenhouse gases, such as CFCs and the surface ozone found in smog, are produced exclusively by human activity.”
Dire Predictions, Introduction page 14

Something in this section is very important today, as current news in 2017 shows that the Greenland Ice Sheet is melting, and that ice sheet has remained intact during climate changes over the past 2 million years. The fact it is melting is extremely important, as it shows we are experiencing something today that hasn’t happened in 2 million years!

 

PART 1: CLIMATE CHANGE BASICS

THE ROLE OF SCIENCE AND SCIENTISTS IN UNDERSTANDING CLIMATE CHANGE

“Basic principles of physics and chemistry dictate that Earth will warm as concentrations of greenhouse gases increase. Though various natural factors can influence Earth’s climate, only the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations linked to human activity, principally the burning of fossil fuels, can explain recent patterns of global warming.”
Dire Predictions, Part 1 Climate Change Basics page 16

Scientists study climate change, and often find themselves questioned by special interests or people hired to look for reasons to contest climate change. Scientists approach climate science the same way they approach other topics: using the scientific method (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method).

“Scientific conclusions arise from time-tested theories, accurate observations, realistic models based on the fundamentals of physics and chemistry, and consensus among colleagues working in the discipline.”
Dire Predictions, Part 1 Climate Change Basics page 21

Real scientific conclusions are not based on what is politically correct, what pleases conspiracy theorists, or what is economically prudent. We do not live in a Star Trek universe where everyone has a theory, so the opinions of people that doubt climate science but lack a scientific education do not trump scientific theories.

 

IPCC 5th ASSESSMENT – WHAT IT MEANS

The 5th assessment of the IPCC makes predictions about the possible outcomes we can expect from climate change. I understand why possibilities that are low are not as alarming, but I do not understand why any politician would reject risks that 50% or greater probability of happening. Intensified cyclone activity, raising sea level (threatening coastal communities around the globe), rising surface temperatures (affecting plant and animal life, as well as humans), impacting the amount of sea life (reducing a food source for a growing population), and a change in long term weather patterns are serious. The IPCC report shows these dangers, yet many politicians ignore them and the outcome, endangering our children and grandchildren, as well as plant and animal life on this pale blue dot we call home: Earth.

Why do politicians argue against climate change? Ask your representatives in the US house and senate. And when (and if) they respond, ask them for the scientific data/peer-reviewed papers that back their position. And be sure to ask them why they disagree with scientific consensus, where 97% of climate scientists agree global warming is happening, is caused by human activity, and is a serious threat to humanity.

 

WHAT IS THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT?

A greenhouse lets sunlight in, reducing heat loss from wind and trapping the heat so the enclosed area is warmer than the outside. These are used in cold climates, as well as when there is a need for warmer climate plants in cooler parts of the world.

“The greenhouse effect occurs on our planet because the atmosphere contains greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are special – they absorb heat, which then warms the atmosphere. Not all gases are greenhouse gases.”
Dire Predictions, Part 1 Climate Change Basics page 22

The greenhouse effect is simple:

  1. The Earth receives sunlight and warms up.
  2. The Earth begins to radiate heat.
  3. Radiating heat encounters greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane) that absorb and retain the heat.

When greenhouse gas levels increase in the atmosphere, more heat is retained and the Earth gets warmer.

Positive feedback loop – in global warming, it happens when one change (like increased carbon dioxide) causes another result (more water vapor in the air) – water vapor is a greenhouse gas, so more water vapor means warmer Earth.

Negative feedback loop – in global warming, increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide causes increased amounts of water vapor (a greenhouse gas) in the air – clouds form. Some clouds trap heat, while others reflect heat, and so this isn’t as much of a factor as positive feedback.

Anthropogenic – human generated. A cause for concern, since we started burning fossil fuels over 200 years ago and have not done anything to remove the excess carbon dioxide. This anthropogenic greenhouse gas has been increasing without a mechanism to reduce the extra carbon dioxide, so our Earth is getting warmer.

Greenhouse gases can be studied in the past, by analyzing ice from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Scientists take core samples of the ice and analyze the air bubbles in different times to see how much greenhouse gases were present. Core studies show far more greenhouse gases are present today than in pre-industrial era air. Not good.

“If we use existing fossil-fuel reserves and do nothing to capture the Carbon dioxide released, atmospheric carbon dioxide will exceed anything experienced on Earth for over 50 million years.”
Dire Predictions, Part 1 Climate Change Basics page 43

There was a myth that climate scientists in the 1970s predicted a new ice age was coming. This was published in popular magazines, not scientific magazines nor scientific journals, and was not the opinion of climate scientists. It was speculation and it was wrong.

The authors discuss climate models in this section, in detail and showing the strengths and weaknesses of them. Many climate change deniers argue that models are bad or inaccurate, but I have not seen any model complaint that was not addressed by scientists. Climate change models are being updated and enhanced, which proves that scientists want the best models possible. Science needs accurate data, but that does not mean we cannot use what we have now, even though it bothers climate change deniers.

 

PART 2: CLIMATE CHANGE PROJECTIONS

“researchers can draw certain conclusions given best-guess scenarios of fossil-fuel burning and the average projections of theoretical climate models.”
Dire Predictions Part 2 page 82

Some critics claim that climate change is false because we still have winters. Ridiculous. Climate scientists believe that, as climate change speeds up, there will be fewer frosty days (that doesn’t infer it will never be cold or frosty), longer heatwaves (that doesn’t mean we will only have heatwaves), and more intense rainstorms (that doesn’t infer we never had intense rainstorms).

Climate Sensitivity – the amount of warming to expect when factors controlling climate change. This shows how how much Earth will warm with increased greenhouse gas emissions.

We have limited real temperature data for land and sea, about 150 yrs for land and 50 yrs for sea, so scientists use tree rings and ice cores to estimate how average temperatures varied over time in the past. We can track solar activity and volcanic eruptions and greenhouse gas concentrations much further back than 150 years, and these help improve our climate models, by helping discern when climate change was influenced by natural or human factors.

By studying historical climate information, science shows that continued buildup of carbon dioxide results in warming of the Earth. Since burning fossil fuels adds greenhouse gases to the air and seas, increased reliance on fossil fuels increases the amount of greenhouse gases and so increases the temperature of our planet.

Recently, there was a false pause, where it appeared that global warming slowed, but that was a result in sparse data gathered, plus a few natural factors that offset global warming. These natural factors included volcanic activity, a short term reduction in solar output, and a series of La Nina events. When you factor in ocean heat content and arctic sea ice losses, the climate change models are still accurate – our planet is heating up, even though natural factors masked global warming during this false pause.

There have been IPCC projects for nearly 25 yrs, and the early ones have proven to be quite accurate. What should concern people living near the coast, is that sea levels have risen as projected for each of the earlier IPCC projections, A large percentage of global population live near the coast, so many people can expect to be impacted in the future, based on current expectations.

While some climate change deniers attack the IPCC findings by claiming they overstate the impact of global warming, actual evidence shows the IPCC predictions underestimated the effects of climate change.

The most conservative estimates for climate change over the next century are grim, with a 50% chance we will exceed 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) increase in average global temperatures. That 2 degree increase is viewed as a dangerous amount of climate interference by humans – called a tipping point. The most liberal estimates are far worse than 2 degrees C increase, with effects far more devastating.

Precipitation will be affected by increased average Earth temperatures, meaning more droughts and more floods. Cold seasons would see more precipitation and warm seasons should less precipitation, which is only good if you like plenty of snow in the winter and no rain in the summer. Increasing droughts could have a terrible impact on desert regions of the world.

Increased temperatures means we can expect to lose ice from our two largest continental ice sheets: Greenland and Antarctica. If the Greenland ice sheet melts, it would result in rising global sea levels of 16’ to 23’!  If the West Antarctic ice sheet melts, that would add another 16’ of rising sea levels. If you live in Louisiana, Florida, New York, or on any island in the ocean, you should be very concerned.

With the evidence we see from climate science, I cannot understand why people would choose to deny climate change and refuse to understand science. Harvey, a recent Cat 4 hurricane hit Texas, and most people were willing to accept the news from climate scientists about that hurricane, so they left endangered areas. Why accept some of what climate scientists say and reject other information? Because special interests promote doubt about climate change, but they don’t interfere with warnings about hurricanes. If you accept scientists are right on hurricanes, you must accept they are right on global warming.

 

PART 3: THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

If you are a climate change denier, this is the section you should focus on. Scientists expect human and animal habitats will be impacted by global warming, and that we will see mass extinction of many land and sea creatures which will affect animal and human food chains.

Climate change will result in less food to feed more people, so who gets to eat and live? We can expect wars as people lack what they need to survive and they will want with others have. We can also expect mass migration of people from less developed countries to the most developed parts of the planet. More people means less surface area to grow or raise food, meaning still less food.

We have already started to see rising sea levels affecting people in Louisiana (Katrina, 2005) and Texas (Harvey, 2017), and the heavily populated eastern seaboard will lose habitat land and heavy storm surges will cause increasing damage and property losses to people and businesses, affecting our economy – insurance companies aren’t in business to pay out more than they bring in, so insurance rates will soar.

If the Greenland ice sheet melts, we can expect over 19’ increase in sea level. Belgium and the Netherlands in Europe, the entire eastern seaboard, the gulf coast, and the west coast will lose much of the available land. And coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef will be impacted by global warming too, impacting the sea life dependent on reefs and reducing parts of the food chain we humans need that eat food from the oceans. And with ice in the arctic and Antarctica gone, life that lives (like polar bears) in those parts of the world will be gone, except for the animals kept in zoos. That will be a tragedy as we learn from studying life in the natural environment.

Droughts, which we have been experiencing since the early 2000s in Texas, Oklahoma and California, reduce plant and animal food production and increase food costs for people everywhere. And flooding won’t just cause loss of life by drowning. Many infectious diseases spread in water, and having more floods means more people are exposed to those diseases and so health costs will also rise.

All continents will be impacted by climate change. Yes, even the US and Europe, as well as Africa and Australia. Less coastal land for people to live on, famine from reduced food production, more disease from floods, and economic chaos from skyrocketing cost increases in every aspect of life. And war, meaning too many people will die far from home and family and friends, trying to gain what they lack.

The only good news we have right now? That the amount of global warming impacts how much our world is affected by global warming. If we act now and reduce our carbon emissions into the environment, we can reduce the changes that happen in the future.

 

PART 4: VULNERABILITY AND ADAPTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE

For our economies to change, we need to reward use of alternatives to fossil fuels and to provide a carbon tax to reward companies that use less fuels that add to the carbon dioxide levels in our environment.

Rising sea levels means our global communities will need to either pump out the excess water like Holland, or move inland. The costs for either will be huge, to individuals and to each country.

We will need to find more fresh water, which could be done by desalination plants if we can find an economically feasible means to mass produce fresh water. We need to produce more food on less arable land, so improving the efficiency of growth/production, as well as reducing spoilage will help.

To adapt to climate change, we need to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we use for energy sources. Alternatives like solar and wind and tide power, as well as nuclear will reduce the fossil fuel we need for energy sources, which reduces carbon dioxide output to the sea and atmosphere. Alternative transportation – more trains, intercity mass transit, and electric-powered vehicles – will reduce fossil fuel consumption.

Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases is another way to adapt. Reducing carbon dioxide from cars by carpooling and improving engine efficiency will help reduce our carbon footprint. Reducing emissions from power systems – as President Obama did by requiring coal powered plants to decrease greenhouse gases – will help, as long as another administration doesn’t make changes that eliminate those emission savings.

Unfortunately, President Trump as made rolling back changes that help the environment a priority of his administration. Removing the US from the Paris Climate Accords was President Trump’s defining act that may well be his lasting legacy – and not for the better I am afraid.

Many ecosystems around the world are sensitive to climate, and many will be wiped out unless we make changes now. Our scientists have seen the effects of climate change on sea corral, and the changes have been accelerating in recent years as greenhouse gases increase.

The truth is, economically it is less expensive to address climate change now that after it gets far worse. We can’t expect to see things immediately return to pre-industrial era conditions, but we can hope to see lower temperatures and less dangerous weather systems. Climate Scientists have shown that higher concentrations of greenhouse gases will take a long time to remove from the environment, so the longer we wait to reduce emissions, the longer the recovery time.

We can do something besides reduce emissions. Implement a carbon tax to reward companies that produce fewer greenhouse gases. This is not popular among republicans, but we are all Americans first and our country’s needs should come before party needs. We are past the point where we can do nothing and things will fix themselves. The cost of inactivity will escalate the longer we ignore or fail to correct the problem. That should motivate anyone that cares about this planet more than profits.

 

PART 5: SOLVING CLIMATE CHANGE

Adaption will help, but we still need to do more to solve global warming. We need to work with the other countries of our planet together, as we all impact each other. Unfortunately, President Trump removed the US from the Paris Climate Accords, so a future administration will need to make alliances with other countries and get political buy-in to prevent some other politician from harming our environment for the sake of profit.

We also need to improve engineering processes to reduce power wasted by inefficient transmission, improve tools like stoves to use fuel more efficiently (reducing the amount needed). This chapter of the book shows graphs that demonstrate the potential places we can reduce greenhouse emissions, along with the costs for each place.

Creating more wind farms and tapping more water power sources like dams and tidal power systems will help. We also need to stop trying to get more fossil fuel from the Earth, so reduce or eliminate fracking (which has proven a problem in Oklahoma, where they are experiencing earthquakes up around 5 on the Richter scale) in 2017.

Using lighter colored surfaces on the roofs of homes and businesses and road surfaces means less solar energy to be absorbed, which will help as well. Using electric cars instead of gas burning cars will make a tremendous difference as well.

We also need to consider future building projects, to reduce power needs and to utilize alternate power sources like solar. We may want to eat less red meat, as cows produce methane, and wheat doesn’t. Nothing wrong with people adapting by having meatless days during the week, which is healthier for us too.

Planting more trees as well as rewarding countries that preserve trees will help. We can’t match the efficiency of trees to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, so planting more is a good option. Some people propose returning carbon to our environment, the same way that fossil fuel holds carbon. There are np good methods at this time, but that will change.

Each person on Earth can help in the fight against global warming. Reduce your use of carbon dioxide producing power systems. Add solar panels and energy efficient appliances to your home. Bike to work or work from home to save gas (and money) while reducing carbon dioxide output. Have a meatless day, where you eat no red meat one day a week. Add insulation to your home, turn off unnecessary lights, get rid of power-leaching power strips, and turn down your thermostat in the winter (and turn it up in summer). Communicate with people that doubt climate change and get them to see the reality of the problem. And write your government representatives and remind them they work for you, not the fossil fuel industry, and we need them to make laws to protect our planet. Plant a tree and a garden at your home.

We must act now. Global warming is real, and a serious threat to life on our planet. Sea life and land-bound life alike are at risk, and the effects will last a very long time, affecting our descendants who will rightly blame us for leaving them in this predicament. Climate change is a very real danger and we need to push our politicians to stop taking special interest money opposing climate change and to start fighting for us, their constituents. Inaction is no longer a realistic option.

 

CONCLUSION

This is an update to the first edition of the book, which includes updated scientific data. The pages in the book are thicker than normal and loaded with illustrations, graphs and images to help convey the information. The book is organized into five sections, which are easy to read sequentially or in any order you like. I hope that some people that embrace climate warming denial either buy or borrow this book from a library and read it with an open mind – I don’t see how any real, intelligent, and unbiased reader could go through this book and still believe global warming is not a real issue.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5 possible and strongly encourage that it be purchased and read by everyone in your family. This material should be easy enough for people with a high school education to understand, and it has enough detail for people with higher education to enjoy.

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Title: Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the WorldProduct Details
Author: Bill Nye
ISBN: 978-1-250-00714-8
Published: 2015 by St. Martin’s Press
Price: $26.99 hardback
(Reviewing the Kindle version)
Length: 352 pages

 

Yes, another long book review (>6100 words), but this book is loaded with data worthy of an in-depth review.

Chapters

1: We’ve Got the Whole World In Our Hands
2: The Call to Greatness
3: A Hothouse of Disbelief
4: Putting a Price on Inaction
5: Inputs and Feedbacks
6: Thermodynamics and You
7: Fighting Global Warming with … Bubbles?
8: Talkin’ ‘Bout Electrical Energy Generation
9: Stop the Burn – Don’t Frack that Gas
10: Nuclear Energy: Too Cheap to Meter… Again
11: One More Reactor (No, Make it Two)
12: Power of the Sun
13: Is the Answer Blowing in the Wind?
14: Down to the Wire
15: Let’s Transform the Grid
16: Dude, Where’s My Battery Pack
17: Quest for Storage
18: Bottling Sunshine with Moonshine
19: NASCAR – A Catalyst for Change
20: Got to Get Moving on Moving
21: Moving Our Masses
22: Rise of the Taxipod, Robotruck, and Bioplane
23: The Water-Energy Connection
24: Time to Get the Salt Out
25: Feeding the World
26: Bringing it all Back Home to Bill’s House
27: Quien es Was Verde – or, Keeping Up with the Begleys
28: Bill and Ed in a Fight for the Sun
29: Bill and Ed Get Into Hot Water
30: The Tap is Off and the Garden is Green
31: The Case for Space
32: Building a Better Rocket Equation
33: Do Humans have a Destiny in Space?
34: Setting a Fair Price for a Better Planet
35: The Unstoppable Species

 

WE’VE GOT THE WHOLE WORLD IN OUR HANDS

“Climate change is coming, and it is coming right at you. Regardless of where you live on Earth, you will live to see your life or the lives of your kids and their friends change due to the overall warming of the planet.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 1

Bill Nye is no climate change denier. He knows enough of the science to know climate change is a real threat to life on Earth and it must be addressed now.

Bill was in China at a science conference and a student became his guide around Beijing and loaned Bill his father’s bike, as his guide’s family was successful enough to now own a car. That prompted this observation:

“That desire – to get more done with less effort – multiplied by billions of people who burn fossil fuels to satisfy that desire, is the root cause of climate change.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 1

He points out that everyone wants what we have in our country: cars, planes, readily available electricity, more electronic devices, more more more.

I’ve heard climate change deniers state that “God wouldn’t let humans change or damage the world he created.” Poppycock! I always counter with “Did you ever hear about nukes? We have far more than needed to change our climate and wipe out all life – God didn’t prevent them.” Bill points out that another species – cyanobacteria – once changed our climate by producing oxygen, which in turn killed off life that couldn’t tolerate oxygen. We humans aren’t the first to affect our climate, although we can hope we will change it back for the better while we can.

When I was young, our total population was 3 billion, and scientists wondered if we could handle feeding 6 or 7 billion people. We are over 7 billion now, and we do feed them, but now our concern is how adding so many new users of fossil fuels adds to climate change. And as more people are born, that means more fossil fuel users are adding to the carbon dioxide contribution in our atmosphere, and carbon dioxide levels directly impact the temperature of our planet.

 

THE CALL TO GREATNESS

“I encourage everyone to reject both of those sentiments (“The climate has always changed in the past and it will always change in the future”, and “We have to save Earth”) and think instead, “We have to save Earth – for us! For us humans!”
Unstoppable, Chapter 2

The first sentiment is a head-in-the-sand view on global warming, and the second is a misunderstanding that the Earth will be destroyed if we do nothing to save it. Both are wrong. We need to act now to counter the effects of global warming, and we need to understand that the effects of global warming could make Earth uninhabitable for humans.

I really liked the author’s question for climate change deniers:

“Would you trust a scientist or a politician who insisted, pounding his fist on the table, that there is no connection between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer?”
Unstoppable, Chapter 2

For decades, politicians and special interests (the Tobacco industry) denied cancer and smoking were linked, and the approaches they used for denying the smoking-cancer link are being used for climate change denial. Too many people that believed the politicians and cancer deniers died, trusting those people over scientists. Are you willing to let your children and grandchildren go through that same experience? The difference between climate change denial and smoking-cancer link denial, is that everyone on Earth is affected by climate change – you can’t stay away from second hand climate change the way you could stay away from second hand smoke. And, unlike smoking, you can’t quit climate change denial. We have to reverse the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The author points out that, to address climate change, we will need to come up with solutions for energy to replace fossil fuels, better ways to transmit electricity, and better ways to store electricity. We also need to be able to convert seawater to drinkable water, grow more food and transport it using power sources other than fossil fuels.

 

A HOTHOUSE OF DISBELIEF

The author studied astronomy with Carl Sagan when he went to Cornell University. I read Sagan’s books titled ‘Cosmos’ and ‘Pale Blue Dot’, and Sagan’s Cosmos video series is still one of my favorite science series ever produced. I think that explains Bill Nye’s audience friendly approach to discussing science, as Sagan was excellent at making complicated subjects understandable by novices. I forgot was how Sagan developed a computer model that showed how the greenhouse effect warms Earth – fortunately the author describes that and gives a simple yet clear explanation of global warming:

“A carbon dioxide molecule is linear. It’s an atom of oxygen connected to an atom of carbon, connected to an atom of oxygen, all in a row. It’s the right length and of the right atomic flexibility (or floppiness) to allow visible light, with wavelengths ranging between 390 and 700 nanometers (billionths of a meter) to pass right by. But, these molecules block the longer reradiated infrared rays (heat), whose wavelengths are about ten times as long as those of visible light. That heat-trapping ability is a feature of the size and shape of carbon dioxide molecules, and the length of waves they trap or let pass. Yes, this really is somewhat like what happens in a greenhouse.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 3

That is one of the easiest explanations why carbon dioxide is directly involved in global warming. The author goes on to explain that the extra heat trapped by increasing levels of carbon dioxide alters weather patterns and local climates around the world. It’s amazing that climate change, which has scientific consensus for 30 years, is still contested by climate change deniers. It is disappointing that the media allows climate change deniers to quote an article in Newsweek published in 1975, that suggests we were heading for a new ice age, not warming. Newsweek is not a science magazine, and we know a lot more about climate science than they did in 1975, yet this is rarely called out by the media when they let deniers state that as evidence scientists don’t know enough about climate to predict changes. The media should stop giving deniers, especially those without education climate science, equal footing with climate change scientists. And a little more fact checking would dispel these old claims that have long been disproven but are still raised by deniers.

“People who should (or do) know better keep confusing weather with climate. Weather is what happens day to day in one place. Climate is what happens over many years to a large geographic area, or the planet as a whole.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 3

This happened in February 2015, where Sen. James Inhofe brought a snowball to the senate floor and declared it proved global warming was a hoax, because it snowed somewhere. Funny, and quite wrong. This senator doesn’t understand climate change. And the argument that more carbon dioxide is good for plants is wrong, as it ignores that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more retained heat for our planet – not good, as that means some areas of the planet will become too warm or dry for plants to thrive.

Another concern climate scientists have concerns methane, as it has much more effect on global warming than carbon dioxide. Methane is trapped in ice, and will be released as more arctic/antarctic ice melts. Attacks on climate scientists, on the data used, on gases on that cause global warming, and on climate change models serves one thing: to delay a response to global warming.

 

PUTTING A PRICE ON INACTION

The author lists costal cities that will be impacted by rising seas, and it’s not good. New Orleans, Miami, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, Sydney, Venice, Mumbai and Qingdao will need major infrastructure changes to prevent being rendered useless. And these cities will be affected all too soon, as sea surges during storms will impact them long before the sea is thigh for the existing banks and dams. And don’t forget countries like the Netherlands that already have sea level issues. If people need to move inland to get away from the water, where will they go?

Transportation to new homes, food and water and clothing, as well as new equipment for jobs, updating existing infrastructures to accommodate new settlers, and creating new sea ports will cost a lot. And don’t forget, that land can be used for housing, work and food production – if more land is needed for housing, we will lose land that could generate food supplies.

And rising seas will result in flooding, which means water-born diseases and mosquito-born diseases, which will cost lives and time and money to address. And parasites normally unable to handle cold weather will flourish in new warmer climates. If we do nothing, the costs to address these problems will be overwhelming.

 

INPUTS AND FEEDBACKS

“A lump of coal is nearly pure carbon. When you burn it, each carbon atom hooks up with two oxygen atoms from the atmosphere to make carbon dioxide, CO2. An oxygen atom weighs one-third more than a carbon atom, so the greenhouse gases add up quickly. When you burn one kilogram of coal, you get 3 2/3 kilos of carbon dioxide.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 5

That’s a lot of gas that retains heat. In 2014, our atmosphere topped 400 parts per million for the first time in history. The author points out that the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere isn’t the problem: the rate of change is. The rate that carbon dioxide is being added to the atmosphere is accelerating because there are more of us each day. More people means more need for power and food and transportation, meaning more carbon dioxide.

Bill describes a feedback loop in climate science: adding heat increases water evaporation. Warmer air holds more moisture than cooler air, so as air warms up, more moisture is evaporated. And water vapor traps heat too, so this addition of water vapor to the air demonstrates a positive feedback in climate science. When water reaches a certain altitude, clouds form, and clouds reflect sunlight into space, causing the Earth to get less sunlight and less heat. This effect of reflecting heat by clouds is negative feedback. But that isn’t all. Clouds low in the atmosphere reflect heat, but clouds high in the air actually reflect heat back down to the Earth, so high altitude clouds have a positive feedback.

Another example of feedback is arctic ice. When arctic ice exists, it reflects sunlight, which is negative feedback. When arctic ice melts, the darker seas absorbs more sunlight and heat, which is a positive feedback. And warmer seas mean more ice melts, so even more positive feedback. Not good. And warmer seas means disruption in sea currents, causing changes in air and ice and sea elsewhere, causing an even bigger positive feedback.

 

THERMODYNAMICS AND YOU

“But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics (the law that entropy always increases) I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.”
Sir Arthur Eddington, Unstoppable Chapter 6

“The energy of motion is converted to the energy of heat all the time in just about everything we do. …
It (the Second Law) constrains all the efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions. In short, it is the foundational challenge to anyone who wants to improve the way we live without increasing the amount of energy we use.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 6

This chapter highlights one of the limits affecting the fight against global warming. Heat released as inefficient use of motion energy. There is only so far we can go to improve efficiency. Fascinating read and the one I’ve enjoyed most, so far.

 

FIGHTING GLOBAL WARMING WITH…BUBBLES?

This chapter deals with geoengineering, a proposed way to address global warming. The author explains that clouds and arctic/antarctic snow and water allow Earth to reflect around 30% of the solar energy that us, so we retain 70%. As we get warmer, there is less ice to reflect solar energy and so Earth gets hotter – not good.

One proposal to reduce the amount of solar energy the Earth retains is to inject bubbles into water. That works because bubbles are more reflective that calm water, and so the water with bubbles would reflect more solar energy. Another benefit of adding bubbles is that it reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation – very important in a world with dwindling natural resources like potable water. The author points out that, while this isn’t currently done intentionally, it could be worth the effort very soon.

If injecting bubbles could be done economically, and on a wide enough scale, it could reduce the solar energy we retain and help fight global warming. Other things that could help geoengineer Earth include adding more trees and more green growing things in the seas, as well as genetically engineer food sources to be lighter in color.

 

TALKIN’ ‘BOUT ELECTRICAL ENERGY GENERATION

This chapter shows we as a society have dependence on electricity, and that we need to reduce the carbon used to generate that electricity.

“Electricity is actually a moving energy field, the pure energy of the cosmos, and that field travels at the speed of light.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 8

“Volts measure electrical pressure, amps measure flow, watts measure power. Power over time equals the total amount of energy. That’s why your electric utility bills you in terms of watt-hours.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 8

 

STOP THAT BURN – DON’T FRACK THAT GAS

Coal generates power, but with a huge carbon footprint. so cleaner burning natural gas could be a temporary bridge to newer ways to generate electricity. Bill Nye points out that natural gas is, at best, a temporary solution and we need to leave it underground, due to release of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is even more of a heat trap than carbon dioxide, and methane can leak into the air when fracking to extract natural gas.

The author explains how fracking has evolved over time, from vertical to horizontal fracking. Some states ban fracking, while other states like Oklahoma embrace fracking. The thing is, Oklahoma started experiencing earthquakes after extensive fracking, and now sees earthquakes at level 5 of the Richter scale where none were experienced in the pre-fracking days. Cities and buildings have been damaged enough to warrant evacuation, and the lessons learned in Oklahoma should be recognized by other states using fracking for natural gas extraction.

Tar sands, like those proposed to be carried by the Canadian Keystone pipeline, are far more dangerous to our environment. That is why I was surprised one of President Trump’s first acts as president was to approve the pipeline previously rejected by President Obama. As of July 2017, the Canadian company wanting the Keystone pipeline is reconsidering the need for it. Hopefully Canada will be more environment-friendly than our current Trump administration.

With the Trump administration’s anti-environment, pro-fossil fuel stance, Trump’s EPA director has been rolling back or refusing to implement regulations designed to protect the environment passed during President Obama’s term. What should scare reasonable people, is EPA head Scott Pruitt’s decision to ignore regulations to control methane pollution (http://tinyurl.com/y9nvsbdc). The courts have recognized the validity of these regulations established during President Obama’s administration and have sided with our world against the Trump administration, but one has to wonder why Trump’s administration is so bent on harming our planet. If you die from pollution, how much good does it do to have more money?

 

NUCLEAR ENERGY: TOO CHEAP TO METER… AGAIN

Chapter 10 focuses on nuclear energy – cleaner power plants than coal/gas fired plants, but with their own risks. The author explains how nuclear energy produces power, but isn’t sold on it as a bridge technology from fossil fuels to a clean power system.

 

ONE MORE REACTOR (NO, MAKE IT TWO)

The author gives a simple and clear explanation on the fundamentals of nuclear power plants and the risks they pose. Bill suggests a reactor with thorium may be safer than uranium or plutonium, and he discusses fusion, which has been discussed but not possible for forty years. Fusion would be clean and cheap, but not something we can handle right now.

 

POWER OF THE SUN

Chapter 12 covers solar power: how it works, how efficient it is, and why it is a good carbon-free source of energy. We need better and less expensive solar panels on more homes, and that should happen over time. Bill points out that solar panels used in space are 40% efficient, whereas the ones homeowners can afford are around 15% efficient. Unfortunately, the US only produces about .4% of its power by solar energy and we need to make a lot more to replace coal-powered electricity to make a dent in our climbing carbon dioxide levels.

When I was young, people talked about having solar panels in space to gather energy and send it to Earth. Bill points out the difficulties with that approach and shows how individual power systems for buildings or a city would be more feasible.

 

IS THE ANSWER BLOWING IN THE WIND?

Wind power. Clean energy and the US currently produces ~4.5% of its electricity from the wind. I’ve seen the wind farms in Iowa, many large windmills I’ve never seen stopped whenever I pass nearby. We could have more, and our previous administration encouraged wind power development over coal (a favorite of our current administration).

The author makes a great point about the feasibility of wind power replacing coal powered electricity. Costs for wind power have dropped to 2.1 cents per kWh (kilowatt hour), whereas coal-powered electricity costs 1.2 cents per kWh, so the cost increase for wind powered electricity is not unmanageable.

Bill describes how some hobbyists have rigged a propellor on the top of a boat to catch the wind, and linked it to a propellor under water to drive the boat through the sea. He says that this type of sail boat can drive straight into the wind (something anyone that ever sailed on a traditional sail boat will tell you is impossible). I’ve never seen these myself, but they sound really interesting.

Unlike solar power, wind power typically isn’t reliable during the middle of the day, when electrical energy needs are highest. And the wind does stop, and wind isn’t available everywhere, but the low cost and no carbon footprint of it make wind power a valid candidate to replace much of our coal-based electricity in the US.

 

DOWN TO THE WIRE

Getting power from where it is generated to where it is used isn’t free nor simple. There are limitations to the efficiency of power being transferred. This chapter explains the details why there is power lost during transmission, so you understand why we need to get more efficient to reduce losses (and, in turn, reduce how much electricity we need to generate).

 

LET’S TRANSFORM THE GRID

Chapter 15 covers the power grid – how we distribute power from different sources like hydroelectric dams, to cities and homes. The important items for discussion here are magnetism and electricity: two of my fav topics. Bill says that increasing efficiency and reduces losses by electrical devices will reduce our need for electrical power. He also explains how transformers work, stepping up and down voltage as needed. But don’t let that cause you to skip this chapter. Bill gets into power transmission issues, buckminsterfullerene and nanotubes of carbon atoms. Nanotubes made of carbon atoms would provide almost no power loss of electricity over long distances, but we can’t make them very long now (50 nm max) – Bill points out that solving this problem would be huge and would change the world.

 

DUDE, WHERE’S MY BATTERY PACK

Chapter 16 covers electric-powered cars. In 2007 I worked with a guy that had an electric car and he was proud of it. Unfortunately, he had a short drive (under 20 miles each way) and had to charge his car once he arrived at work and again when he arrived home. It may have been quite, but he told me the cost to replace the batteries would be more than buying a new car. Newer cars do much better these days, and the author is right that we should do more to move to electric cars.

 

QUEST FOR STORAGE

This chapter covers the many many different types of power storage containers (batteries) we’ve used in the past and present. Interesting material, but near the end of the chapter Bill talks about gravity storage pistons, which are simple but potentially huge ways to store power for use when the sun or wind are unavailable. Fascinating subject and the first I’ve seen about it. Really really good information.

 

BOTTLING SUNSHINE WITH MOONSHINE?

In chapter 18, Bill discusses how batteries are not the only means of storing power for off-hour consumption. Food like corn gets energy from the sun, and in turn can be fermented into ethanol, which can be drank or burned. Unfortunately, sun-to-corn-to-ethanol is not efficient (2% according to the author) so it isn’t a good standalone solution over fossil fuel. Sugar from sugarcane can also provide stored power – more than 2x what corn provides – and sugar can be fermented and produce alcohol too.

Bill brings up catalytic converters also. I remember when they were introduced and how some opposed them as too expensive and not likely to help with pollution. As we know today, and as Bill points out, they made a big difference in reducing pollution and weren’t too expensive for their intended purpose. The same arguments many deniers and fossil fuel industry shills make today about reducing carbon dioxide output – and the deniers are as wrong today as they were in the 70s.

 

NASCAR – A CATALYST FOR CHANGE

I’m not a NASCAR fan. No problem with people that like it. Never developed a taste for it. Bill talks about NASCAR and how they use old auto tech to make races exciting, and (showing my age) I understood as I remember a time when cars had carburetors and pushrods. At least he didn’t bring up records yet (if you don’t know what they are, you are not old and you know how to use Google).

 

GOT TO GET MOVING ON MOVING

“almost a third of all energy we use in the United States goes to transportation. We use almost as much energy moving ourselves and our goods around as we use to produce or create those goods in the first place.”
Unstoppable, chapter 20

Bill points our our inefficiency moving power as a great place to start to address global warming. The author mentions that trains are 4x more efficient than a truck – a neat tidbit of knowledge – so trains are better at movement than trucks.

 

MOVING OUR MASSES

This chapter covers mass transit, pointing out that subways are far more efficient at movement than cars. The only unfortunate situation is that mass transit away from the New England area of the US (not including Chicago) usually relies on buses for mass transit, not trains or subways. I agree with Bill that riding public transportation lets passengers read or use their smart phones – something car drivers shouldn’t do while on the road (but, unfortunately, too often do while driving).

One year I worked as a consultant for a client that had showers onsite for the employees, as they encouraged their people to bike to work to conserve gas and reduce pollution. I wish this was the stance of more companies. For a while, many companies allowed their people to telecommute, but that policy comes and goes over time, and it has been cut back the past two years in the technology field.

Bill talks about the need for helmets when biking and I agree. I wear one when I bike outside, on a mountain bike or a road bike, and I wear a helmet when I ride a motorcycle. Being safe means more than looking cool to me. Biking is a great way to exercise, so any laws passed making it more convenient are ones I’ll always vote for – I hope you do too.

 

RISE OF THE TAXIPOD, ROBOTRUCK, AND BIOPLANE

This chapter covers automated cars. We’ve seen stories about self-driven cars the past few years, and Bill believes this will happen and become the major method of transportation within cities in the future. That would make Elon Musk happy.

The idea of flying cars appealed to me, until I earned a pilot license. Ground school and CFIs proved that flying takes a lot more mental work than driving a car. Too many people mentally disengage while driving to talk, text, or play games – you can’t do that in a plane and survive long. Self-piloting planes (or helicopters, like Iron Man used in Captain America: Civil War) would be far safer.

 

THE WATER-ENERGY CONNECTION

Navy ships and subs distill their own water while at sea, whereas cruise ships lack the power needed to distill water, so they use membranes to filter out particles from water. The author points out that this second method would work for cities needing water. This was what I thought, when I considered the recent droughts affecting California, and I suspect this type of solution will happen sooner rather than later.

 

TIME TO GET THE SALT OUT

Mangroves are trees that can handle salty water – they filter out salt for useful water, and eject the salt on their leaves. The author points out that this is what we need to create – a system emulating mangroves. There is a material – graphene – that would work, but the cost of production and utilization could be a problem.

 

FEEDING THE WORLD

“the economic sector that uses the most of Earth’s resources and produces the largest environmental change is our agriculture. Our farms produce greater volumes of more greenhouse gases than all of our cars, trucks, trains, ships and airplanes combined.”
Unstoppable, chapter 25.

With a growing population, this means even more climate change. And we waste too much food. Most of my neighbors don’t eat leftover food, so it goes in the trash. We had leftovers in my family when I was growing up, so I have no issue using leftover food for lunches. The author talks about using GMFs (Genetically Modified Foods) that need less food and water to grow more food, and GMFs have have fans and dis-tractors for many years, but eventually we will need to rely on them to feed our people.

 

BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME TO BILL’S HOUSE

Bill looks for ways to use less energy in his own home. He uses solar power and talks about paying $10 every other month for an electricity bill. Now that is incredible. And he uses other systems to reduce power needs for lights and heating water. What is amazing is that he estimates he saves a tremendous amount of power usage for less than it costs for a nice SUV, and that savings is paid for in 10 years. If only more people did as much as Bill – maybe this will motivate more people to do the same.

 

QUIEN ES MAS VERDE-OR, KEEPING UP WITH THE BEGLEYS

Bill talks about his eco-friendly competition with neighbor Ed Begley Jr., and this is the type of competition we need to see more often if we want to beat global warming. Striving for more efficient uses of power and resources can only help: us save money and the planet save resources and energy used to gather those resources.

Bill had a reflector installed in his fireplace, which reflects more heat into the room. When I spent some time in a Scottish castle, it had one too, and the amount of heat that a few logs gave to the room was impressive. I sat back 20 feet from the fire and could still feel the warmth.

 

BILL AND ED IN A FIGHT FOR THE SUN

This chapter covers solar power panels and the cost benefits. His solar cells generate more power than he needs, so that power is sold back to the power company and he receives the money instead of a bill. Bill’s solar panels are 15% efficient, but I found a company online that says it gets 22.1% efficiency from their solar cells, which is a nice improvement.

 

BILL AND ED GET INTO HOT WATER

The author uses solar power to heat water for his home, which is a cost saver. He also installed tankless water heaters, which I too have looked into, which instantly heat water and save money as there is no need to wait for running water to heat up. A good idea, and I plan to install solar heating and tankless water heaters in my next home for sure.

 

THE TAP IS OFF AND THE GARDEN IS GREEN

The author had a garden installed and used a system with multiple zones and a rain sensor to improve efficiency. I had a sprinkler system with the same arrangement (zones and rain sensor) installed after I built my home, and saw a 40-50% decrease in water used (according to water bills) than when using regular mobile sprinklers. It helped to be able to time the sprinklers to work during the middle of the night, and to be able to control the amount of water sent to each zone.

 

THE CASE FOR SPACE

Finally, some numbers that intrigue me: space flight. The author shows why calculus is needed for rocket science: because burning fuel changes the weight of a space craft constantly. According to Bill, a 100% efficient rocket needs 500 million joules to life one ton of cargo to 62 miles (the beginning of space). To get into orbit, you need twice that amount of energy. To get into geosynchronous orbit (1 day for each time around the Earth), it takes 5000 million joules of energy. This energy does not count the rocket mass and fuel itself.

Air pressure against a rocket decreases as altitude increases.

“When the decreasing static pressure and increasing dynamic pressure reach a maximum, it is called max-q.”
Unstoppable, chapter 31

Max-q is dangerous for the rocket as the pressure on the nose of the space craft is maximum. The location where a space craft is launched is important as well, since launching near or at the equator means the Earth’s rotation will add to a craft’s orbital velocity.

Returning to Earth means getting rid of the energy used to get into orbit. When in low Earth orbit (like the ISS), one ton of payload must dissipate 30 billion joules of energy, and the easiest way to do that is use the friction of the atmosphere to convert energy into heat (the reason for good heat shields on space craft).

There. Bill provides the information you need to plan how much fuel you need to get your own space craft to space and back again.

 

BUILDING A BETTER ROCKET EQUATION

The author states that most rockets use rocket fuel called RP-1 (Rocket Propellant #1), which is refined kerosene with chains of carbon atoms. All particulates are removed (which explains why the first launch in ‘The Astronaut Farmer’ failed so badly). Liquid hydrogen (used in Apollo and the space shuttle) contains more energy than RP-1.

A nice surprise in this chapter is the simple yet clear explanation of ion propulsion (xenon gas atoms propelled by electrical grid out of the craft, pushing it forward as the xenon leaves the craft. Since ion engines develop slow but constant power, they currently can only be used once in space, so you still need RP-1 to get to space.

Bill also talks about solar sail power. NASA launched their own NanoSail-D into orbit in 2011. The Planetary Society successfully launched LightSail in 2015, and they intend the next generation of this to launch in 2018.

The takeoff weight for airplanes is around 10% fuel, while the takeoff weight for space craft is 90%. Lighter materials affect both airplanes and space craft, and would lower takeoff fuel requirements.

 

DO HUMANS HAVE A DESTINY IN SPACE?

“this common goal – to leave the world better than we found it.”
Unstoppable, chapter 33

As global warming is a modern threat, just as dangerous as ISIS and other terrorists, our generation needs to solve the global warming threat to our planet. That would make the world a better place – for us and for our children and grandchildren. We also need to explore space to learn more about life here and out there.

Mars facts that interest maybe just me in this chapter: atmospheric consists of carbon dioxide, air pressure is .7% that of Earth, average noontime high temperature is -40 C/F. Space craft can only depart for Mars every 26 months (due to orbits of Earth and Mars)

 

SETTING A FAIR PRICE FOR A BETTER PLANET

A carbon fee or carbon tax will work, if conservatives stop opposing it. This is the best way to tie economic considerations into carbon emissions, and it could be our best hope to reduce greenhouse gases.

 

THE UNSTOPPABLE SPECIES

“When I decided to write this book, I did it with one enormous goal in mind: I want to help change the world.”
Unstoppable, chapter 35

The issues and optional ways to address them are well covered in this book. Reasonable people being logical should have no issue with Bill’s suggestions, unless they have a special interest agenda that provides economic incentive to ignore the dangers of global warming. That incentive means that some of our politicians and policy makers put the interest of the fossil fuel industry ahead of their own families, friends and fellow countrymen. Is money worth more that human life? It shouldn’t be, but unfortunately it is.

Global warming is real. Doesn’t matter your political or religious affiliation, facts are facts. Radio and internet personalities, political scientists, and people drawing paychecks from think tanks paid by companies promoting fossil fuel use do not know better than people with advanced degrees in science. If that bothers you, you are being unreasonable and are fooling yourself.

I’ve seen vicious attacks on climate scientists by trolls on Twitter, whose arguments were worthless but these trolls were blinded by hate and refused to be reasonable and refused to accept that uneducated people cannot know as much about a subject as subject matter experts with advanced education on climate science. Why trolls with no or little hight school education feel like they can challenge these people on climate science is beyond me.

Either we fight this battle now, or allow our children and grandchildren to face much greater (and potentially unbeatable) challenges that we do at this time.

 

CONCLUSION

This book is well written, flows well and breaks down technical items enough for anyone (except senators on the payroll of fossil fuel companies) to understand the danger of global warming and the technical difficulties we must overcome to make changes to reduce our carbon output.

This book educates and informs people that really want an education on climate science. Deniers should read it as it disproves denier excuses intended to delay our fight against global warming. I can’t see how an honest denier could read this book and still fail to understand the dangers of global warming. I’d think even someone with an advanced degree in political science would understand the science explained in this book, clearly enough to realize they are hurting, not helping humanity.

I give it 5 stars out of 5 and recommend purchasing it. Students and adults will learn a lot about science, and it is not partisan. It is real, it is true, and it must be a wake up call to people trying to harm our world by fighting the fact that global warming is the biggest danger to our species right now.

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

This month I’m temporarily reverting back to earlier tid-bit type entries because I’ve be deluged by input. Being an information junkie requires not only a large hard drive, but also a fairly good memory – so far so good!   Enjoy

Note, many of the technologies I share are in various stage of first, development, and are often far from being a commercial success. Their inventors and supporters still have to prove that they are reliable, durable and scalable, Remember There Ain’t No free Lunch and silver bullets too often turn to lead.

When and if you Google them in depth, you will find studies saying they are capable of being commercialized and often as many other studies that are more skeptical because there is no easy way to for them into our systems.

I always, as 75 year old cynic, find it appropriate, to step back as I read and WIIFT – No it’s not something new to smoke; just the compulsion to ask what’s in it for them. It’s okay to have a hidden agenda, but agenda’s too hidden discomfort me. In addition, most have no relationship to solving the problem that is being bragged about. I also object to TGTBT (To good to be true) since there never a free lunch and energy runs downhill.

I don’t usually do items with direct political implications, but the items below rubbed my sense of WIIFT.  Recently thoughts about announcements and new service information as well as headlines picked up by the news services. My thought — If its slick and there are no cross checked reference details, it’s probably a scam – legal perhaps but a scam. — As discussed in a recent Bloomberg Business Week:How about rating agencies, Moody’s, S&P, and Fitch’s, glowing credit rating (e.g., investor grades and better) just days-weeks-or one or two months before the firms bankruptcy declarations.

AIG (insurance)

Enron (Energy)

World Com (Telecom), or

Bear Stearns (banking)

Lehman Brothers (banking)

Washington Mutual (banking).

CIT (Financial Services)

MF Global (Baking)

…Tens of Others

I’ve ignored the American auto industry because the Feds both bailed them out and they are back in the black to profitability and job creation. However their bond and shareholders have are still ‘forever’ losers.) I also ignored the airlines because there were not apparently fueled by mis-ratingsReferences:Credit Rating Agencies – Need For Reform — http://ezinearticles.com/?Credit-Rating-Agencies— Need-For-Reform&id=788696 and Credit Rating Agencies — http://rru.worldbank.org/documents/CrisisResponse/Note8.pdf

Why Did Anyone Listen to the Rating Agencies After Enron?http://www.law.umaryland.edu/academics/journals/jbtl/issues/4_2/4_2_283_Hill.pdf

Also See Notable Bankruptcies of 2008: Final Tally | Robert Salomon’s Blog: http://blog.robertsalomon.com/2009/01/05/notable-bankruptcies-of-2008-final-tally/

22 Largest Bankruptcies in World Historyhttp://www.instantshift.com/2010/02/03/22-largest-bankruptcies-in-world-history/

Major Bankruptcies Firms in the Business Historyhttp://www.infographicsposters.com/finance-infographics/major-bankruptcies-firms-in-the-business-history

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Titles, As Usual, in No Formal Order, for the New Snippets and Topics

  • German Wind Power Blows Nowhere — Germany’s Wind Power Revolution in the Doldrums
  • How Are Permissible Radiation Limits Set? — How Much Is Science, How Much “Prudence”?
  • Feds Assess Using Abandoned Federal and State Owned Sites For Their Renewable Energy Potential
  • The Discussion Continues: Nuclear Power in Japan (Part I) and A Plea for Common Sense when Prioritizing Environmental Concerns (Part II) How does the danger from the Fukushima Daiichi reactors compare to other health dangers, such as Tokyo pollution?
  • Trying to Change a Climate Skeptic’s Mind?  —  Don’t Bother
  • Feed-in Tariffs Best to Deal with Climate Change Says IPCC Working Group III Renewables
  • Economic And Emissions Impacts Of Electric Vehicles

 

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German Wind Power Blows Nowhere — Germany’s Wind Power Revolution in the Doldrums

By Frank Dohmen and Alexander Jung

Fox News — January 02, 2012   

http://nation.foxnews.com/wind-power/2012/01/02/german-wind-power-blows-nowhere#ixzz1iVLl8hND

The construction of offshore wind parks in the North Sea has hit a snag with a vital link to the onshore power grid hopelessly behind schedule. The delays have some reconsidering the ability of wind power to propel Germany into the post-nuclear era.

Info

The generation of electricity from wind is usually a completely odorless affair. After all, the avoidance of emissions is one of the unique charms of this particular energy source.

But when work is completed on the Nordsee Ost wind farm, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of the island of Helgoland in the North Sea, the sea air will be filled with a strong smell of fumes: diesel fumes.

The reason is as simple as it is surprising. The wind farm operator, German utility RWE, has to keep the sensitive equipment — the drives, hubs and rotor blades — in constant motion, and for now that requires diesel-powered generators. Although the wind farm will soon be ready to generate electricity, it won’t be able to start doing so because of a lack of infrastructure to transport the electricity to the mainland and feed it into the grid. The necessary connections and cabling won’t be ready on time and the delay could last up to a year.

Read more: http://nation.foxnews.com/wind-power/2012/01/02/german-wind-power-blows-nowhere#ixzz1ko1pbebQ

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How Are Permissible Radiation Limits Set?How Much Is Science, How Much “Prudence”?

U.S. Regulatory Report NCRP-136 examined the question of establishing permissible radiation limits.  After looking at the data, it concluded that most people who get a small dose of nuclear radiation are not harmed by it, and in fact are benefited.  That’s what the science said:  Most people would benefit by receiving more radiation.

But curiously, the report’s final conclusion was just the opposite.  It recommended that our regulations should be based on the premise that any amount of radiation, no matter how small, should be considered harmful.  It made that recommendation just to be “conservative” or “prudent.”

Let’s think about that.  Why is it prudent to do just the opposite of what the science indicates?  Why is exaggerating a panicky situation considered prudent?  I’ve never seen a good answer to that question.  Whatever the reasoning or implied logic, that’s where we’ve ended up.

We’ve had three uncontrolled releases of radioactivity from serious malfunctions of nuclear power plants: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.  In each of these, fear of radiation proved to be much more harmful than the effects of radiation itself.  And announcing that no amount of radiation is small enough to be harmless was certainly effective in creating and nurturing phobic fear of radiation, when none was justified by the facts.

In addition, the problem is aggravated by the fact that we’ve been told for sixty years (two human generations) that nuclear terror is infinitely more dreadful than any non-nuclear threat, particularly when you blur the distinction between power plants and bombs.

But what Fukushima tells us that this abstract, academic position looks very different when you’re telling people they can’t go home – perhaps for years, because, well, it seems more prudent that way, even though radiation hasn’t actually hurt anyone there.

Radiation expert Professor Wade Allison, author of “Radiation and Reason, has cast the question in a new light.  He suggests, let’s set the permissible radiation limit the same way we set all other safety limits.  Not by asking how little radiation we can get by with, but how much can we safely permit?  There’s no intention of lowering the safety margin, and it will not be lowered.  That’s not the issue.  It’s a matter of working with the scientific data, rather than from a generic fear not supported by the science.

Prof. Allison concludes that setting the permissible radiation limit, with a good margin of safety, results in an annual permissible level about 1000 times the current figure.

Disclosure: Ted also reviewed and provided feedback on the high-school level book Dr. R. A. Deju wrote called Nuclear is Hot published by the EnergySolutions Foundation.

References

How Are Permissible Radiation Limits Set? http://www.learningaboutenergy.com/2011/11/how-are-permissible-radiation-limits-set.html

By Ted Rockwell – You Tube Video Talk to the Japanese People http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uj8Pl1AiOuA&feature=youtu.be

About Ted Rockwellhttp://www.world-nuclear.org/sym/2005/rockwellbio.htm

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Feds Assess Using Abandoned Federal and State Owned Sites For Their Renewable Energy Potential

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have announced a plan to spend the next year to 18 months assessing 26 former landfills, brownfields and Superfund sites. The sites will be assessed for use as future solar photovoltaic, or other renewable projects.

The EPA plans to spend about $1 million on the assessment, according to the Associated Press. The assessment is part of the RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative that started in 2007. The analysis will determine the best renewable energy technology for the site, the potential energy generating capacity, the return on the investment and the economic feasibility of the renewable energy projects.

The 26 sites are located in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, California, Oregon and Washington. The sites include an open-pit copper mine, a former lead smelter, and various hazardous materials contaminated landfills.

The EPA said there have already been more than 20 renewable energy projects built on contaminated sites, and more are under construction.

Doc sez, if the site is being used constructively, monitoring costs become an integral part of doing business, not a burden to their communities and American taxpayers.

 

References

Power Engineering, November 7, 2011

http://www.power-eng.com/articles/2011/11/abandoned_sites.html

Associated Press, By Susan Montoya Bryan, Nov 4, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/feds-assess-sites-renewable-energy-potential-222043648.html

http://www.sify.com/finance/feds-assess-sites-for-renewable-energy-potential-news-environment+and+nature-llgvpdjiedb.html

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The Discussion Continues: Nuclear Power in Japan

(Part I)How does the danger from the Fukushima Daiichi reactors compare to other health dangers, such as Tokyo pollution?

This began as an answer to one letter writer in Friends Journal, and grew. The information that surprised me most is the answer to this question: How does the danger from the Fukushima Daiichi reactors compare to other health dangers, such as Tokyo pollution?

Karen noted that there were a number of responses to Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Power in Japan posting.

It is long past time for Friends to begin a conversation on nuclear power and the much larger issue of how we know what to believe. Many among us insist that what is overwhelmingly the safest of the large sources of electricity should meet standards that no other energy source meets. Many Friends insist that the scientific community is lying about the safety of nuclear power. And overwhelmingly, we as a community insist that solutions to climate change be only the ones we like, even when scientists and policy experts find these solutions partial or even counterproductive.

Karen shares her ideas, to which I thoroughly subscribe in greater detail with the underlying thought “Our simplicity testimony calls for removing obstacles to walking joyfully with God. At the best of times, this is a challenge. Today, there can be little joy in the most optimistic scenarios for climate change. Additionally, our integrity queries don’t seem to raise some vital questions: everyone’s wrong, a lot. When am I wrong? How would I learn that I am wrong, that like-minded people are wrong? A single standard of truth does not mean checking on the web to confirm our hopes and fears.” — Read on check the link(s).

Reference

By Karen Street, The Energy Collective (The moderated community blog for energy, policy, and environment professionals), November 29, 2011.

http://theenergycollective.com/karenstreet/70925/discussion-continues-earthquake-tsunami-and-nuclear-power-japan

Part II:           A Plea for Common Sense when Prioritizing Environmental Concerns

In addition Ted Rockwell recently noted, in Technology Review, an MIT Science, Engineering and Technology and magazine that:

New lessons are beginning to emerge from Fukushima.  Each new concern leads to additional safety requirements.  But some contradictions are beginning to raise questions:  Amid tens of thousands of deaths from non-nuclear causes, not a single life-shortening radiation injury has occurred.  Not one!  And while some people in the housing area are wearing cumbersome rad-con suits, filtered gas-masks, gloves and booties, there are many people living carefree in other places like Norway, Brazil, Iran, India where folks have lived normal lives for countless generations with radiation levels as much as a hundred times greater than forbidden areas of the Fukushima homes.

At Fukushima this is no abstract issue.  People are being told they cannot return home for an indeterminate period – perhaps years.  And efforts to decontaminate their home sites may require stripping off all the rich topsoil and calling it Radwaste.  People who were evacuated have been reduced to economic poverty, clinical depression, and even suicide.

There is good scientific evidence that, except for some hot spots, the radiation levels at these home-sites are not life threatening.  The current restrictions are based on a desire to be “conservative.”  No matter how well intended, this “conservatism” is cruelly destructive.  The respected radiation authority Wade Allison, author of Radiation and Reason, has proposed that the current annual radiation dose limit be raised 1000-fold, which he says is still well below the hazard level of clinical data on which he bases his proposal.  Other radiation protectionists are beginning to feel unhappy about the harm their rules have caused and are joining in the cry for quick action as the Japanese head into winter.

It’s time that the draconian measures are revoked.  A simple declaration of the known health facts about radiation from the proper authorities would be a good first step. — Ted Rockwell

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Kinks in the Road to Solar Power

– It’s about reducing environmental risk

This chapter discusses potential positive and negative environmental, social, and 8 economic impacts of utility-scale solar energy development. The types of solar technologies 9 evaluated include those considered to be most likely to be developed at the utility scale during the 20-year study period evaluated in this programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS), considering technological and economic limitations. These technologies include parabolic trough, power tower, dish engine, and photovoltaic (PV) technologies.

The purpose of this chapter is to describe a broad possible range of impacts for 15 individual solar facilities, associated transmission facilities, and other off-site infrastructure that might be required to support utility-scale solar energy development. This impact analysis will inform the design of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Solar Energy Program and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) programmatic guidance, including the identification of measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate potential impacts associated with solar energy development.

This 300 page chapter is well written, accurate, excellently referenced, and contains much information about issues that solar energy advocated prefer to bury in their search for both a silver bullet and their hatred of nuclear power. But that Doc’s mouthing off again against let me give you free lunch-ism’s and political and profit seeking corporate smoke and mirrors, solar or otherwise.

References

The Solar Draft Programmatic [DPEIS], Chapter 5 “Impacts Of Solar Energy Development and The Potential Mitigation Measures’ December 2010. Argonne National Laboratory — http://solareis.anl.gov/documents/dpeis/Solar_DPEIS_Chapter_5.pdf

Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement Going In Wrong Direction

New Report Blasts Administration’s Public Lands Solar Policy — April 4, 2011

http://www.basinandrangewatch.org/solardoneright-PEIS.html

Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States (Solar Energy Development PEIS). You can link to download the entire 1100 page EIS, which is significantly shorter than those I usually read and review related to nuclear projects.            http://solareis.anl.gov/

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Trying to Change a Climate Skeptic’s Mind?  — Don’t Bother 

I’ve mentioned my convictions, yes beliefs, about changing the minds of the fervent 10% of the population — the believers of anything about an issue, whether conspiracy theory, the ‘revealed truth’ or even WIIFT driven.) This article focuses on climate change skeptics, rather the radiation phobia and measured risk or vaccine toxicity. But since we live in an open society, the rest of us can and do require and accept scientifically duplicated and peer reviewed evidence that is always grey. But don’t let that stop you from reading this well written article by Evan Girvetz.

Reference

The Energy Collective Blog, Written by Evan Girvetz
, Published on February 8th, 2011

http://theenergycollective.com/greenskeptic/51411/trying-change-climate-skeptics-mind-dont-bother

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Feed-in Tariffs Best to Deal with Climate Change Says IPCC Working Group III Renewables

Climate change is one of the great challenges of the 21st century. Its most severe impacts may still be avoided if efforts are made to transform current energy systems. Renewable energy sources have a large potential to displace emissions of greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels and thereby to mitigate climate change. If implemented properly, renewable energy sources can contribute to social and economic development, to energy access, to a secure and sustainable energy supply, and to a reduction of negative impacts of energy provision on the environment and human health.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge on climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.

This Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) impartially assesses the scientific literature on the potential role of renewable energy in the mitigation of climate change for policymakers, the private sector, academic researchers and civil society. It covers six renewable energy sources – bioenergy, direct solar energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, ocean energy and wind energy – as well as their integration into present and future energy systems. It considers the environmental and social consequences associated with the deployment of these technologies, and presents strategies to overcome technical as well as non-technical obstacles to their application and diffusion. The authors also compare the levelized cost of energy from renewable energy sources to recent non-renewable energy costs.

The IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) provides a comprehensive review concerning these sources and technologies, the relevant costs and benefits, and their potential role in a portfolio of mitigation options.

The Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) of the IPCC Working Group III provides an assessment and thorough analysis of renewable energy technologies and their current and potential role in the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. The results presented here are based on an extensive assessment of scientific literature, including specifics of individual studies, but also an aggregate across studies analyzed for broader conclusions. The report combines information on technology specific studies with results of large-scale integrated models, and provides policy-relevant (but not policy-prescriptive) information to decision makers on the characteristics and technical potentials of different resources; the historical development of the technologies; the challenges of their integration and social and environmental impacts of their use; as well as a comparison in levelized cost of energy for commercially available renewable technologies with recent non-renewable energy costs. Further, the role of renewable energy sources in pursuing GHG concentration stabilization levels discussed in this report and the presentation and analysis of the policies available to assist the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies in cli- mate change mitigation and/or other goals answer important questions detailed in the original scoping of the report.

A snippet of the findings includes:

The 135-page report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, especially Chapter 11 on Policy, Financing and Implementation, makes it clear that the overwhelming weight of academic studies conclude that feed-in tariffs — or fixed-price mechanisms — perform better at delivering renewable energy quickly and equitably than quota systems, such as Renewable Portfolio Standards in the U.S. or the Renewable Obligation in Britain. This is not the unsurprising conclusion from a surprising source: the IPCC’s Working Group III on Renewables. Below are some selected excerpts illustrating the themes that run through the report.

Page 5 — Several studies have concluded that some feed-in tariffs have been effective and efficient at promoting RE electricity, mainly due to the combination of long-term fixed price or premium payments, network connections, and guaranteed purchase of all RE electricity generated. Quota policies can be effective and efficient if designed to reduce risk, for example, with long-term contracts.

Page 53 — Although they have not succeeded in every country that has enacted them, price-driven policies have resulted in rapid renewable electric capacity growth and strong domestic industries in several countries — most notably Germany (See Box 11.6) and Spain (See Box 11.8) but more recently in China and other countries as well — and have spread rapidly across Europe and around the world.

There’s too much detail available in the report to neatly summarizing, in a page or two of this blog topic. However, it’s easy to get to the full or even the partial reports by linking to them. Note that there appear many legal ways, via the word trade association [WTO], of punishing the goods and services exported by non-cooperating countries like the USA by taxing/tariffing their goods and services, for not taking an active role in slowing or better yet preventing global warming.

 

This is not politically attractive to the European Union’s governance, but popular opinion could never the less bring the issue to an ugly head. Look at how, in the mid-90’s, American’s reacted to the acid rain killing their forests by cross-state boundary sulfur gas releases from coal power plants.

References

Excerpts: Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

By Paul Gipe, Contributor, Renewable Word.com Blog, November 8, 2011.

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2011/11/feed-in-tariffs-best-to-deal-with-climate-change-says-ipcc-working-group-iii-renewables?cmpid=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+renewable-energy-news-rss+%28Renewable+Energy+News%29

Full Report: http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/report/IPCC_SRREN_Full_Report.pdf

Acid Rain  – Wikipedia 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acid_Rain

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Economic and Emissions Impacts Of Electric Vehicles 

President Obama during his 2011 State of the Union address stated that we should have one million electric vehicles (EV) in the United States by 2015. The benefits of that would be to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and to reduce emissions. These are worthy goals. This article looked at the economic impact of using electric cars, their emissions, and their impact on the electric grid. The analysis was focused on the Nissan Leaf since it is an all-electric vehicle.

Operating economics — The Leaf might be used primarily as a second car for commuting on a daily round trip of say, 50 miles, requiring a daily charge of 12 kWh. A typical home currently uses 25 kWh each day, so this represents about a 50-percent increase in the electricity use. The cost of that electricity varies, depending on where you live, but if we use an average residential rate of 11.3 ¢/kWh, we get a daily cost of $1.35, or a monthly cost of about $40.

This cost needs to be compared with the cost savings of not using the required gasoline. If we assume that a typical equivalent gasoline-powered car would get 25 miles per gallon, and if we assume $3 per gallon gasoline, we get the monthly cost of $180 (50 miles/day x 30 days/month x $3 per g/25 miles/g).

For a complete examination of the economics, we would have to consider the incremental cost of the batteries. The added expense would have to be properly amortized over their effective lifetime. Both the cost and the lifetime are presently difficult to determine because the cost of batteries is not listed in the specification and because experience on the lifetime is limited. A very rough estimate might be that the batteries cost $10 000 and last for five years. This implies that the amortization cost of $166/month, neglecting any interest charge ($10,000/60 months)

Also to be considered is the cost of maintenance, which may be less expensive for an electric vehicle because of fewer moving parts. So the cost of electric vehicle ownership may be about the same as owning a gasoline-powered car.

The article continues with a discussion of Impact on the Grid (infrastructure), and Emissions Reduction-Impact.

The author concludes that the adoption of electric vehicles can have a significant impact on the reduction of unhealthy automobile emissions, but in order to decrease the emissions from the production of electricity in general, nuclear power plants are the only emission-free power generators that can have a significant impact. Currently, they produce 20 percent of the electricity in the United States, with coal’s share being 50 percent. That ratio needs to change in favor of nuclear plants by building more of them.

References

By Ulrich Decher, Ph.D., ANS Nuclear Café Blog, Posted on February 15, 2011

http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2011/02/15/economic-and-emission-impact-of-electric-vehicles/

Factors Affecting Energy Prices (Electricity Explained), US Energy Information Administration, http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=electricity_factors_affecting_prices

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Endnotes

Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Some of the articles listed in this column are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledge and is limited to educational related purposes, which this column provides.

Sources & Credits:  — Many of these items were found by way of the links in the newsletter NewsBridge of ‘articles of interest’ to the national labs library technical and regulatory agency users. NewsBridge is electronically published by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, in Richland WA.  If using NewsBridge as a starting point, I follow the provided link to the source of the information and edit its content (mostly by shortening the details) for information for our readers. I also both follow any contained links, where appropriate, in the actual article, and provide you those references as well as those gleaned from a short trip to Google-land. Obviously if my source is a magazine or blog that’s the found material I work with.

In addition, when copying materials that I cite, I do not fill the sourced ‘quoted’ words with quotation marks, the only place I keep quotes intact is where the original article ‘quotes’ another secondary source external to itself.  Remember, when Doc sticks his two bits in, its in italics and usually indented.

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In Closing

Related to Climate Change – It’s real, no matter who caused it!  I also know from the overwhelming amount of hard data, perhaps even truly believe, is this.

Disparaging data without contrary measured facts is like lying or preaching – its belief not science.

Defaming scientists and scholars with whom you disagree is like casting the first rock. I hope you and your kids have a nice safe asteroid at the Lagrangian point to live on independent of Earth; terra firma will not work.

For green or energy related items, if we put a simple price (tax) on carbon (or greenhouse gases and particles) and give out no subsidies, these new technologies would have a better chance to blossom.

With American ingenuity, Indian and Chinese too, thousands more ideas would come out of innovators’ garages. America still has the best innovation culture in the world. But we need better policies to nurture it, better infrastructure to enable it and more open doors to bring others here to try it.

Continue to remember, conditions, both technical and geopolitical continuously change – So if you’ve made up your mind about either the best way to solve a problem, or about the problem is all a conspiracy, move on to the next article in our blog. Today’s favorite is tomorrow unintended consequence. However, that’s better than sticking one’s head in the sand or believing in perpetual motion. Remember, there’s no free lunch and as a taxpayer and consumer you must always end up paying the piper!

Finally, since my topic segments are only a partial look at the original materials, click-through the provided link if you want more detail. In addition, <I hope often> to check out other background references on the topic(s).  Doc. … And yes I trust Wikipedia, but only if I’ve checkout most of an articles references for bias and accuracy!

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QUOTES de Mois —

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” And, “The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false face for the urge to rule it.” — H. L. Mencken

“It is no secret that a lot of climate-change research is subject to opinion, that climate models sometimes disagree even on the signs of the future changes (e.g. drier vs. wetter future climate). The problem is, only sensational exaggeration makes the kind of story that will get politicians’ — and readers’ — attention. So, yes, climate scientists might exaggerate, but in today’s world, this is the only way to assure any political action and thus more federal financing to reduce the scientific uncertainty.” — Monika Kopacz – Atmospheric Scientist

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Product: SkyFi Wifi to Serial Adapter
Vendor: Southern Stars (http://www.southernstars.com/index.html)
Price: $149.95

Introduction

SkyFi is another fine product from Southern Stars, who sell SkySafari software for mobile devices and Mac computers, as well as other telescope-related hardware products. SkyFi uses WiFi to connect the RS232 control data flow from a telescope controller to an device (iPod/Phone/Pad apps as well as computer applications).

Setup

Figure 1 - SkyFi

Connecting the SkyFi to your telescope controller isn’t difficult. The package includes a couple of adaptors which will work with the mosre common telescope setups. The connection on the SkyFi itself is an RJ11 telephone jack. You can make a cable that connects the SkyFi directly to your telescope controller, use the included adaptors, or purchase a cable specifically for your computer from Southern Stars. Once connected to the telescope controller, you turn it on and it creates a wireless network.Your remote device needs to be connected to this network and also needs to be running software that can send and receive telescope control and data using the TCP IP. The connection scheme is the same as the one in the previous article. The Southern Stars web site has a nice explanation and pin out of the cables you need, in case you want to make one.

The SkyFi device itself is a bit larger then a cell phone. It is powered by 4 double-A batteries and can accept a power brick as well (6 to 12 VDC). There is no on/off switch, but there is a switch that selects either external or internal voltage source. Switching to external voltage source disconnects the internal batteries. (Which acts like a switch). A piece of velcro can be used to attach the SkyFi to the telescope mount, out of the way of motion. It is very light and once running, you won’t need to adjust it at all.

Once on, the SkyFi makes a wifi hotspot available. Firmware on the device controls the IP address and security. There is a standard IP address which is printed on the SkyFi, but you can change this and security settings if needed. I didn’t bother changing the default settings, as they worked well. I could find no fault with the defaults!

Using the Product

Before you begin using the SkyFi, you need to be sure that the telescope control software you use can communicate to the telescope using TCP IP. I Didn’t know some programs do not support TCP IP. On my MacBook, I have Voyager 4.5 and a copy of Sky Safari Beta that will work. The Starry Night Pro Plus that I like using doesn’t do TCP connections to telescopes. The people at Starry Night were unaware of a solution that would work on the Macintosh. For Windows users there are a couple of shareware applications that create a virtual com port that can be tied to the TCP connection, so I imagine this would work with a Window based machine and Starry Night or any other non-TCP controller application.

Figure 2 - SkyFi with a Telescope

If you are controlling with your i-device, you will need the Southern Stars Sky Safari package. (I am unaware of any other astronomy app that controls a telescope). We looked at these Apps a bit in the last article. In the App’s settings, you choose to use TCP IP to connect to the telescope controller. The default address is the same as the default on the SkyFi. (No surprise there!) Select to control the telescope and you are in control using your iPod/iPad/iPhone.

Working with the Voyager software, I had no issues controlling my telescope computer at all. Commands were instant as was feed back. The only issue I had was with me forgetting to choose the SkiFi network rather then my own home wireless network. You also need to make sure the controller software has the same TCP address that the SkyFi has. In Voyager 4.5, there is a box to enter this address. The default address is printed on the SkyFi device, which is another good reason for keeping to the defaults. However, if you need to change it, you can always re-label the back of the unit.

When I first read about the SkyFi, I thought that it was a wireless device and that it would log onto the local wireless network and make the telescope available on that network. It doesn’t do that. Rather then logging onto an existing network, it creates one of it’s own. So I couldn’t use this device to control my telescope with my desktop computer, since it doesn’t have a WiFi card. Nor would one be able to use it to allow access to the telescope from a remote site. You need to be in range of the SkyFi’s wireless netwrok to connect.

Figure 3 - VSP3 Screen

Since the computer you are controlling the telescope with is connected to the SkyFi network, it won’t be connected to your regular one. While observing I usually listen to Internet radio and I will often pop onto some internet site to inspect images and information about the object I am seeking. So I don’t get to listen to the Internet Radio, but I can still do my research by logging back onto my home network, do the research, then re-connect to the SkyFi. Luckily, this isn’t a big issue. Once the telescope is aimed at an object, the onboard controller takes care of compensating for the movement of the earth. Once connected back to the SkyFi, the data stream identifies the slightly changed location and all is well. It is just an added step in the process.

Conclusion

The biggest issue I had with the SkyFi is that it doesn’t come as a package. You buy the SkyFi and then need to find some compatible software. If the software you already purchased isn’t compatible, then you need to consider this as part of the purchase cost. It would be a whole lot nicer if the SkyFi came packaged with either SkySafari or Voyager. However, if you are into astronomy, you probably already have some package that will work with the SkyFi.

Much to my chagrin, I had expected that using the SkyFi would remedy the tangle of cables that I “need” to deal with when observing. However, I found that I still need to bring an extension cord to power the AutoStar (or use the battery adaptor). Since I had the power cord there, I went ahead and plugged in my MacBook Pro, so I still had the extension cord cable and the power supply cord to the MacBook. Thus, the tripping issue wasn’t really resolved. I suppose I could run the Scope on battery and bring the extension cable to the MacBook Pro, but that would cost me a lot in the battery budget.

As far as distance, the SkyFi does pretty well. I walked around the yard with my MacBook and had to get pretty far away to loose the connection. I think I was able to move slightly father then the expected 100 feet from the device. I was also able to put the MacBook on my dining room table and still control the telescope in the yard. I can see this as a real advantage in the winter as it would give me a chance to warm up between observations.

SkyFi is available through the Southern Star’s web site as well as many other astronomy stores. Southern Star also sells Sky Safari for MacOS X in three flavors, the Plus and Pro versions includes telescope controls ($20 and $50 respectively). The version for the iPod/Phone/Pad can be purchased through iTunes store again, you will need either the Plus or Pro version to control the telescope. In the next installment of this series, I will look specifically at the Sky Safari applications for the Macintosh.

Recommendation

Overall, the SkyFi works very well. If you are looking for a wireless connection to your telescope, this is the device you want. I don’t think there are many other options. I had no issues controlling my telescope using the device. If you have an iDevice and want to control your telescope, this is again a terrific solution.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

I just started my second year of graduate school at the University of St. Thomas (UST) in St. Paul, MN, and I am working on a MS in Software Engineering degree. In my first year of classes, I enrolled in 2 classes per semester which is a heavy load when working full time. I felt I progressed so much after one year, that I would continue with the same workload, even though it left me with little time for things beyond work and school.

I enrolled in two classes for the Fall: Object Oriented Analysis and Design (OOA/D) and Data Warehousing (DW). Before classes started I re-read The Object Oriented Thought Process and Code Complete to prep for the OOA/D class. I also ordered both required textbooks from Amazon.com at a substantially reduced price compared to the new text prices in the bookstore. For the DW class, I didn’t know what other books would help, so I ordered all three text books listed in the course syllabus. The DW books, also from Amazon.com, were also at a reduced price compared to new books at the bookstore.

I had classes on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, so I dedicated the other 5 days to studying and project work. The Fall really flew by this year. So much to learn, so many interesting and new concepts, and a few new tools to learn too.

Tools

For OOA/D, we had to use MagicDraw to create UML drawings and I found it to be a fairly intuitive tool to use yet still quite powerful. Our OOA/D professor arranged for MagicDraw licenses, so I obtained one, downloaded and installed the software, and ran through a few tutorials that were quite helpful. Having an MSDN account for students to download Microsoft tools is a real blessing, and UST does provide accounts to those that need tools for their classes. My DW class required the MS SQL Server 2008 Management tools, so I used my UST MSDN account to download the software and installed it on a laptop running Windows 7.

Projects

Our OOA/D class had two person team projects, and our DW class had three person team projects. For OOA/D, each team decided what it wanted to do and then proposed it for approval to the professor. We did a website with Struts and Hibernate frameworks – very cool. For DW, the professor gave a five stage project, where he provided clean, valid data at the start of steps 2 – 4, so any mistakes made early in the project did not affect our ability to learn the material and do well on the assignment. This was the first time I’ve had known clean data in a multistage class assignment and I really liked it. At the start of stages 3 and 4, we were able to look back at to what we did and see how we did right and wrong in the earlier stage. This is one approach I really liked and I hope I see more assignments like it in the future.

Some tools that were useful in both projects we communications tools. Twitter and email absolutely rock, but they alone are not enough. In my OOA/D project, we used a free SVN repository hosted by ProjectLocker for keeping our source code in sync. For the DW project, we used Dropbox to do version control.

Tests and Homework

In both classes classes we had a mid-term and a final exam, and the exams were as challenging as last year. Both classes had multiple homework assignments. Not as much homework as I had in the Advanced Web Development course last Spring, but still more than enough, especially compared to undergrad course homework assignments.

Team Building

I worked with three different people on projects in both classes, and decided to be the driver of both projects. Both teams met at my house on different days to work on our projects, and one thing I did for team building was to fix lunch for the team. We all had different backgrounds and experiences, so a meal is a great way to relax and get to know other people. I like to cook (check out my food blog: mikeh2010.wordpress.com) and I like to try new recipes, so my team mates gamely tried the food. I didn’t duplicate the meals one time, and it seemed to work out well for both of us except perhaps one time. Once I served something very spicy (Korean BBQ) and it might have been too spicy for one of my team mates. He said it wasn’t, but he is a real trooper and may have just been polite. In any case, I appreciated the chance to cook and just talk with all three team mates and hope to partner with them again in other classes.

Conclusion

I enjoyed this semester. I learned a lot and enjoyed spending some time working on projects with my three classmates. I plan to generate another article or two on the topics we covered in both classes, as well as improve some of my existing articles. I know I still have another eight classes to complete my degree, but the education is worth the time and effort. Some people have no choice but attend online schools and that is fine – do what you can to improve yourself however you can. If you can attend class in person, it is well worth it. I missed a total of 1 class this semester, even though I had some health issues early in the semester, because I truly enjoyed being on campus.

I’m still excited to be in grad school, and I still believe it to be a good career choice for many professions besides software development. I’m taking a week off, then it is time to start reading again over the holiday break. I will take two classes in the Spring and look forward to what I learn in both courses I’ll take this Spring. Until then, keep on learning.

— Three National Academies Recent Studies

An Op-Ed Piece; doc’s eclectic views November 1, 2011

By Harry Babad, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved  — Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License


Introduction

As is my want, I periodically check the National Academies Press web pages for workshop notes/articles/reports that appeal to me, not as nuclear waste and energy expert. Rather I explore the various issues at times only ripples and at times tidal waves related to public policy in both American society and that of the world.

Hence this Op-Ed piece. Herein I COPY the prefaces or abstracts from three reports I found both distress and challenging. Unusual for me, I do not editorialize on them, that’s up to you, the reader. I do however highlight sections that made a deep impression on me by either underlining the (if short) or by enclosing them in a text box. I also could not resist my genetic editors syndrome so I split a few sentences in two, or added in italics, a linking word or two. Remember, my stuff is in italics.

Also the graphics are my idea, the NRC reports a captained extensive tables and figures, good technical stuff, but are not into Flesch–Kincaid readability test  levels for their narratives or illustrations. But my friends in the academies will not disinherit me because its all for an educational purpose. _        Doc.

…Read on!

A Renewable Biofuel Standard — America’s Quandary

Scientific Legal Evidence Revisited – Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: Third Edition

Essential Health Benefits — Balancing Coverage & Costs

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Setting a Biofuels Renewable Fuel Standard

— Choosing an alternative, an all American Quandary [A NRC Study of the Potential Economic and Environmental Effects of U.S. Biofuel Policy]

“In the United States, we have come to depend upon plentiful and inexpensive energy to support our economy and lifestyles. In recent years, many questions have been raised regarding the sustainability of our current pattern of high consumption of nonrenewable energy and its environmental consequences. Further, because the United States imports about 55 percent of the nation’s consumption of crude oil, there are additional concerns about the security of supply. Hence, efforts are being made to find alternatives to our current pathway, including greater energy efficiency and use of energy sources that could lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as nuclear and renewable sources, including solar, and (also their) environmental consequences of increasing biofuels production. The statement of task asked this committee to provide “a qualitative and quantitative description of biofuels currently produced and projected to be produced by 2022 in the United States under different policy scenarios …

“The United States has a long history with biofuels. Recent interest began in the late 1970s with the passage of the National Energy Conservation Policy Act of 1978, which established the first biofuels subsidy, applied in one form or another to (mostly) corn-grain ethanol since then. The corn grain ethanol industry grew slowly from early 1980s to around 2003. From 2003 to 2007,ethanol production grew rapidly as methyl tertiary butyl ether was phased out as a gasoline oxygenate and replaced by ethanol. Interest in providing other incentives for biofuels increased also because of rising oil prices from 2004 and beyond. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established a new and much larger Renewable Fuels Standard and set in motion the drive towards 35 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent biofuels plus 1 billion gallons of biodiesel by 2022. This National Research Council committee was asked to evaluate the consequences of such a policy; the nation is on a course charted to achieve a substantial increase in biofuels, and there are challenging and important questions about the economic and environmental consequences of continuing on this path.

The National Research Council committee brought together expertise on the many dimensions of the topic. In addition, we called upon numerous experts to provide their perspectives, research conclusions, and insight. Yet, with all the expertise available to us, our clearest conclusion is that there is very high uncertainty in the impacts we were trying to estimate. The uncertainties include essentially all of the drivers of biofuel production and consumption and the complex interactions among those drivers: future crude oil prices, feedstock costs and availability, technological advances in conversion efficiencies, land-use change, government policy, and more.

“The U.S. Department of Energy projects crude oil price in 2022 to range between $52 and $177 per barrel (in 2009 dollars), a huge range. There are no commercial cellulosic biofuels plants in the United States today. Consequently, we do not know much about growing, harvesting, and storing such feedstocks at scale. We do not know other than for ethanol how well the conversion technologies will work nor what they will cost. We do not have generally agreed upon estimates of the environmental or Green House Gases [GHG] impacts of most biofuels. We do not know how landowners will alter their production strategies. The bottom line is that it simply was not possible to come up with clear quantitative answers to many of the questions. What we tried to do instead is to delineate the sources of the uncertainty, describe what factors are important in understanding the nature of the uncertainty, and provide ranges or conditions under which impacts might play out.

“Under these conditions, scientists often use models to help understand what future conditions might be like. In this study, we examined many of the issues using the best models available. Our results by definition carry the assumptions and inherent uncertainties in these models, but we believe they represent the best science and scientific judgment available.

“We also examined the potential impacts of various policy alternatives as requested in the statement of work. Biofuels are at the intersection of energy, agricultural, and environmental policies, and policies in each of these areas can be complex. The magnitude of biofuel policy impacts depends on the economic conditions in which the policy plays out, and that economic environment (such as GDP growth and oil price) is highly uncertain. Of necessity, we made the best assumptions we could and evaluated impacts contingent upon those assumptions. Biofuels are complicated.

“Biofuels are controversial. There are very strong advocates for and political supporters of biofuels. There are equally strong sentiments against biofuels. Our deliberations as a committee focused on the scientific aspects of biofuel production—social, natural, and technological. Our hope is that the scientific evaluation sheds some light on the heat of the debate, as we have delineated the issues and consequences as we see them, together with all the inherent uncertainty.”

Why No Conclusions or Recommendations? — “The statement of task calls on the committee to refrain from recommending policies but to provide an objective review of the policy instruments available, including an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of each in affecting long-term trends in transportation energy use and emissions. Because of the multitude of ways in which individual policy instruments can be designed, targeted, and applied, it was not possible to examine all of their possible variations and outcomes for a sector as large and diverse as U.S. transportation. For example, how fast and by how much fuel taxes or vehicle efficiency standards are raised will profoundly influence the relative prospects of such options for implementation and their effects on energy use and emissions and on other areas of interest to policy makers such as transportation safety, the environment, and the economy. This study is not a modeling exercise aimed at projecting and quantifying the effects of many policy instruments, each designed and structured in alternative ways and applied across one or more modes. The more realistic study goal is to compare the main types of policy options with respect to the main energy- and emissions-saving responses they induce and the challenges and opportunities they present for implementation.”

There is much in this report to stretch you mental muscles. Too, often what we read is distorted by either the silver bullet or golden goose syndrome or by WIIFT. As is usual with NAS reports, there are occasional places where I differ from the conclusions of this consensus report; but consensus is just that — not perfect, just hopefully workable. Indeed where panel members are friends or colleagues, I’ve often argued particular points with them. However, over-all the reports are a very good source of information.

National Academy of Science-National Academies Press <2011> The PDF download is free!  PREPUBLICATION COPY – document is subject to editorial changes only.

Biofuel – Wikipedia, 2011 — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biofuels

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Scientific Legal Evidence Revisited – Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: Third Edition

On many occasions I have gripped about courts treatment of scientific evidence and at times written in praise of revising the tort system with the wider scale implementation science courts using well-trained certified peer accredited combinations legal experts and scientists, to assist the judge. Cases would not go to juries until the underlying scientific evidence had been evaluated. Why — just on example,  chrysotile based asbestos fibers are relatively low in toxicity so should not be painted with the same brush as Amphibole asbestos.

 This NAP document sings the songs I love to hear; belief and science have their own place.

Only then could a case enter the fault finding juried phase. I would much rather give jury applicants tests in scientific methodology and broad knowledge, but I suspect very few potential jurors would pass such a test. Yes, I hear the screams from lawyers deprived of their cut, civil libertarians and educators.

The NRC Report Summary

“Supreme Court decisions during the last decade of the twentieth century mandated that federal courts examine the scientific basis of expert testimony to ensure that it meets the same rigorous standard employed by scientific researchers and practitioners outside the courtroom. Needless to say, this requirement places a demand on judges not only to comprehend the complexities of modern science but also to adjudicate between parties’ differing interpretations of scientific evidence.

“Science, meanwhile, advances. Methods change, new fields are born, new tests are introduced, the lexicon expands, and fresh approaches to the interpretation of causal relations evolve. Familiar terms such as enzymes and molecules are replaced by microarray expression and nanotubes; single-author research studies have now become multi-institutional, multi-author, international collaborative efforts. No field illustrates the evolution of science better than forensics.

“The evidence provided by DNA technology was so far superior to other widely accepted methods and called into question so many earlier convictions that the scientific community had to reexamine many of its time-worn forensic science practices. Although flaws of some types of forensic science evidence, such as bite and footprint analysis, lineup identification, and bullet matching were recognized, even the most revered form of forensic science—fingerprint identification—was found to be fallible. Notably, even the “gold standard” of forensic evidence, namely DNA analysis, can lead to an erroneous conviction if the sample is contaminated, if specimens are improperly identified, or if appropriate laboratory protocols and practices are not followed.

“Yet despite its advances, science has remained fundamentally the same. In its ideal expression, it examines the nature of nature in a rigorous, disciplined manner in, whenever possible, (in) controlled environments. It still is based on principles of hypothesis generation, scrupulous study design, meticulous data collection, and objective interpretation of experimental results. As in other human endeavors, however, this ideal is not always met. “Feverish competition between researchers and their parent institutions, fervent publicity seeking, and the potential for dazzling financial rewards can impair scientific objectivity. In recent years we have experienced serious problems that range from the introduction of subtle bias in the design and interpretation of experiments to overt fraudulent studies. In this welter of modern science, ambitious scientists, self-designated experts, billion dollar corporate entities, and aggressive claimants, judges must weigh evidence, judge, and decide.

“As with previous editions of the Reference Manual, this edition is organized according to many of the important scientific and technological disciplines likely to be encountered by federal (or state) judges. We wish to highlight here two critical issues germane to the interpretation of all scientific evidence, namely issues of causation and conflict of interest. Causation is the task of attributing cause and effect, a normal everyday cognitive function that ordinarily takes little or no effort. Fundamentally, the task is an inferential process of weighing evidence and using judgment to conclude whether or not an effect is the result of some stimulus. Judgment is required even when using sophisticated statistical methods.

“Such methods can provide powerful evidence of associations between variables, but they cannot prove that a causal relationship exists. Theories of causation (evolution, for example) lose their designation as theories only if the scientific community has rejected alternative theories and accepted the causal relationship as fact. Elements that are often considered in helping to establish a causal relationship include predisposing factors, proximity of a stimulus to its putative outcome, the strength of the stimulus, and the strength of the events in a causal chain.

“Unfortunately, judges may be in a less favorable position than scientists to make causal assessments. Scientists may delay their decision while they or others gather more data. Judges, on the other hand, must rule on causation based on existing information. Concepts of causation familiar to scientists (no matter what stripe) may not resonate with judges who are asked to rule on general causation (i.e., is a particular stimulus known to produce a particular reaction) or specific causation (i.e., did a particular stimulus cause a particular consequence in a specific instance). In the final analysis, a judge does not have the option of suspending judgment until more information is available, but must decide after considering the best available science. Finally, given the enormous amount of evidence to be interpreted, expert scientists from different (or even the same) disciplines may not agree on which data are the most relevant, which are the most reliable, and what conclusions about causation are appropriate to be derived.

“Like causation, conflict of interest is an issue that cuts across most, if not all, scientific disciplines and could have been included in each chapter of the Reference Manual. Conflict of interest manifests as bias, and given the high stakes and adversarial nature of many courtroom proceedings, bias can have a major influence on evidence, testimony, and decision making. Conflicts of interest take many forms and can be based on religious, social, political, or other personal convictions. The biases that these convictions can induce may range from serious to extreme, but these intrinsic influences and the biases they can induce are difficult to identify. Even individuals with such prejudices may not appreciate that they have them, nor may they realize that their interpretations of scientific issues may be biased by them.

“Because of these limitations, we consider here only financial conflicts of interest; such conflicts are discoverable. Nonetheless, even though financial conflicts can be identified, having such a conflict, even one involving huge sums of money, does not necessarily mean that a given individual will be biased. Having a financial relationship with a commercial entity produces a conflict of interest, but it does not inevitably evoke bias. In science, financial conflict of interest is often accompanied by disclosure of the relationship, leaving to the public the decision whether the interpretation might be tainted. Needless to say, such an assessment may be difficult. The problem is compounded in scientific publications by obscure ways in which the conflicts are reported and by a lack of disclosure of dollar amounts.

“Judges and juries, however, must consider financial conflicts of interest when assessing scientific testimony. The threshold for pursuing the possibility of bias must be low. In some instances, judges have been frustrated in identifying expert witnesses who are free of conflict of interest because entire fields of science seem to be co-opted by payments from industry. Judges must also be aware that the research methods of studies funded specifically for purposes of litigation could favor one of the parties. Though awareness of such financial conflicts in itself is not necessarily predictive of bias, such information should be sought and evaluated as part of the deliberations.

“The Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, here in its third edition, is formulated to provide the tools for judges to manage cases involving complex scientific and technical evidence. It describes basic principles of major scientific fields from which legal evidence is typically derived and provides examples of cases in which such evidence was used. Authors of the chapters were asked to provide an overview of principles and methods of the science and provide relevant citations.

“We expect that few judges will read the entire manual; most will use the volume in response to a need when a particular case arises involving a technical or scientific issue. To help in this endeavor, the Reference Manual contains completely updated chapters as well as new ones on neuroscience, exposure science, mental health, and forensic science. This edition of the manual has also gone through the thorough review process of the National Academy of Sciences.

“As in previous editions, we continue to caution judges regarding the proper use of the reference guides. They are not intended to instruct judges concerning what evidence should be admissible or to establish minimum standards for acceptable scientific testimony. Rather, the guides can assist judges in identifying the issues most commonly in dispute in these selected areas and in reaching an informed and reasoned assessment concerning the basis of expert evidence. They are designed to facilitate the process of identifying and narrowing issues concerning scientific evidence by outlining for judges the pivotal issues in the areas of science that are often subject to dispute.

“Citations in the reference guides identify cases in which specific issues were raised; they are examples of other instances in which judges were faced with similar problems. By identifying scientific areas commonly in dispute, the guides should improve the quality of the dialogue between the judges and the parties concerning the basis of expert evidence. In our committee discussions, we benefited from the judgment and wisdom of the many distinguished members of our committee, who gave time without compensation.”

http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13163

The PDF download is free!  PREPUBLICATION COPY – document is subject to editorial changes only.

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Essential Health Benefits — Balancing Coverage & Costs <2011>

The academy committee, all volunteers, albeit knowledgeable, managed to stay clear of politicizing, an accomplishment I’m not sure I could equal.

“A critical element of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the set of health benefits—termed “essential health benefits” (EHB)—that must be offered to individuals and small groups in state-based purchasing exchanges and the existing market. If the package of benefits is too narrow, health insurance might be meaningless; if it is too broad, insurance might become too expensive. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Defining and Revising an Essential Health Benefits Package for Qualified Health Plans concluded that the major task of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in defining the EHB will be balancing the comprehensiveness of benefits with their cost.

“Not surprisingly, the work of this committee drew intense public interest. Opportunity for public input was offered through testimony at two open hearings and through the web. The presentations at the hearings reinforced for the committee the difficulty of the task of balancing comprehensiveness and affordability. On the one hand, groups representing providers and consumers urged the broadest possible coverage of services. On the other, groups representing both small and large businesses argued for affordability and flexibility. The committee thus viewed its principal task as helping the Secretary navigate these competing goals and preferences in a fair and implementable way.

“The ACA sets forth only broad guidance in defining essential health benefits, and that guidance is ambiguous—some would say contradictory.

First, EHB “shall include at least” ten named categories of health services per Section 1302 Second, the scope of the EHB shall be “equal to the scope of benefits provided under a typical employer plan.”
Third, there are a set of “required elements for consideration” in establishing the EHB, such as balance and nondiscrimination.
Fourth, there are several specific requirements regarding cost sharing, preventive services, proscriptions on limitations on coverage, and the like.

Taken together, these provisions complicate the task of designing an EHB package that will be affordable for its principal intended purchasers—individuals and small businesses.

“The committee’s solution is this: build on what currently exists, learn over time, and make it better. That is, the initial EHB package should be a modification of what small employers are currently offering. All stakeholders should then learn enough over time—during implementation and through experimentation and research—to improve the package. The EHB package should be continuously improved and increasingly specific, with the goal that it is based on evidence of what improves health and that it promotes the appropriate use of limited resources. The committee’s recommended modifications to the current small employer benefit package are:

(1) To take into account the ten general categories of the ACA;
(2) to apply committee-developed criteria to guide aggregate and specific EHB content and on the methods to determine the EHB; and
(3) to develop an initial package within a premium target.

“Defining a premium target, which is a way to address the affordability issue, became a central tenet of the committee. Why the Secretary should take cost into account, both in defining the initial EHB package and in updating it, is straightforward: if cost is not taken into account, the EHB package becomes increasingly expensive, and individuals and small businesses will find it increasingly unaffordable. If this occurs, the principal reason for the ACA—enabling people to purchase health insurance, and covering more of the population—will not be met. At an even more fundamental level, health benefits are a resource and no resource is unlimited. Defining a premium target in conjunction with developing the EHB package simply acknowledges this fundamental reality. How to take cost into account became a major task.

“The committee’s solution in the determination of the initial EHB package is to tie the package to what small employers would have paid, on average, for their current packages of benefits in 2014, the first year the ACA will apply to insurance purchases in and out of the exchanges. This “premium target” should be updated annually, based on medical inflation. Since, however, this does little to stem health care cost increases, and since the committee did not believe the DHHS Secretary had the authority to mandate premium (or other cost) targets, the committee recommends a concerted and expeditious attempt by all stakeholders to address the problem of health care cost inflation.

“An additional task related to that part of the committee’s charge directing it to address “medical necessity.” Medical necessity is a means by which insurers and health plans determine whether it is appropriate to reimburse a specific patient for an eligible benefit. For example, the insurance contract may specify that diabetes care is a covered benefit; whether it is paid for depends on whether that care is medically necessary for the particular patient—whether, for example, the patient has diabetes.

‘The committee believes that medical necessity determinations are both appropriate and necessary and serve as a context within which the EHB package is developed by a health insurer into a specific benefit design and that benefit design is subsequently administered. The committee favored transparency both in the establishment of the rules used in making those determinations and in their application and appeals processes. Indeed, since the design and administration of health benefits rather than the scope of benefits themselves are what appear to differentiate small employer plans from each other and from large employer plans, monitoring benefit administration is an important step in the learning process and updating of the EHB.

“Further, the committee stated that a goal of the updated EHB package is that its content becomes more evidence-based. The committee wishes to emphasize the importance of research about the effectiveness of health services and to emphasize that the results of this research, including costs, should be taken into account in designing the EHB package. New and alternative treatments, in the view of the committee, should meet the standard of providing increased health gains at the same or lower cost.

“Since the committee saw balancing comprehensiveness and affordability as the Secretary’s major task, it also recognized that any such balancing affected, and was affected by, individual and societal values and preferences. Thus, the committee recommends that both in the determination of the initial EHB package and in its updates, structured public deliberative processes be established to identify the values and priorities of those citizens eligible to purchase insurance through the exchanges, as well as members of the general public. Such processes will enhance both public understanding of the tradeoffs inherent in establishing an EHB package and public acceptance of what emerges.

“The committee recommended that the Secretary develop a process that facilitates discovery and implementation of innovative practices over time. A key source for this information will come from what states are observing or enabling them in their own exchanges. Moreover, the committee recommends that for states that operate insurance exchanges, requests to adopt alternatives to the federal essential health benefits package be granted only if these are consistent with ACA requirements and the criteria specified in the report and they are not significantly more or less generous than the federal package. State packages also should be supported by meaningful public input. The committee hopes that its work will be useful in assisting the Secretary of HHS to determine and update the essential health benefits and that its deliberations will be informative to the public. As with most issues of importance, the committee’s work involved balancing tradeoffs among competing interests and ideas. We hope this work is a positive step toward effective implementation of a key provision of the ACA.”

Since, in America the Litigative, the recommendations and implementation practices recommended by the EHB will be challenged in court, I recommend you read, if you skipped it, the previous topic on ‘Scientific Legal Evidence”.

A Reference and a Note

Essential Health Benefits — Balancing Coverage & Costs, 2011

http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13234

The PDF download is free!  PREPUBLICATION COPY – document is subject to editorial changes only.

A Note ASIDE:

Recent articles and studies on Implicit Prejudice, holding belief based and deeply buried prejudices, which daily affect your decisions. See: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ and Scientific American: The Implicit Prejudice 06/09/2006 Article [http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=0004B0F0-7813-146C-ADB783414B7F0000] The implications of these hidden workings of our brains add much to how we make de3cision and ‘judge’ truth individually or in court.

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General References

The National Academies Press

Recent NAP Releases  [http://www.nap.edu/new.html]

NAP—Environment and Environmental Studies [http://www.nap.edu/topics.php?topic=285&t=p]

NAP—Energy and Energy Conservation | Policy, Reviews and Evaluations   [http://www.nap.edu/topics.php?topic=358]

Other recent NAS/NAE/NAP topics I skimmed and found interesting and at times quite troubling.

  • Chemistry in Primetime and Online — Communicating Chemistry in Informal Environments <2011>
  • Environmental Impacts Of Wind-Energy Projects <2011>
  • Informing the Future — Critical Issues in Health, Sixth Edition <2011>
  • Relieving Pain in America — A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention Care Education & Research <2011>
  • On Being a Scientist — A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, Third Edition <2009>

Wikipedia for Background MaterialsYes I trust Wikipedia, but only if I’ve checkout most of an articles references for bias and accuracy! My Wikipedia checks are no different that my checking websites for whom their publishers represent and what causes they favor.

U.S. Government Accountability Office [GAO]   [http://www.gao.gov/]
Recent Reports and Studies. The GAO is the non-partisan 90-year old investigative arm of congress. In a similar manner, to my learning from NRC/NAP reports, many of the technology reports published by the Government Accountability Office make facilitating, if troublesome reading. NAS committee’s to which I have provided expert knowledge specifically in the nuclear waste area are thorough, relatively unbiased and always accurate in using reference materials.

Congressional Research Service [CRS]

The CRS is known as “Congress’s think tank” is the public policy research arm of the United States Congress. As a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress, CRS works exclusively and directly for Members of Congress, their Committees and staff on a confidential, nonpartisan basis. CRS reports are highly regarded as in-depth, accurate, objective, and timely, but as a matter of policy they are not made directly available to members of the public. There have been several attempts to pass legislation requiring all reports to be made available online, most recently in 2003, but none have passed. Instead, the public must request individual reports from their Senators and Representatives in Congress, purchase them from private vendors, or search for them in various web archives of previously released documents.

The CRS is joined by two other congressional support agencies. The Congressional Budget Office provides Congress with budget-related information, reports on fiscal, budgetary, and programmatic issues, and analyses of budget policy options, costs, and effects. The Government Accountability Office assists Congress in reviewing and monitoring the activities of government by conducting independent audits, investigations, and evaluations of federal programs. [Partial Wikipedia Quote]

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End Notes:

Copyright Notice — Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Disclosure — Some of the articles quoted and listed in this column are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledge and is limited to educationally related purposes, which this column provides. They are likely covered by the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: Tides Calculator
Vendor: Wolfram Research (www.wolfram.com)
Price: $.99

Wolfram’s Mathematica (now version 8.0.4) is a mature product used by many professionals and academics, and the past couple of years Wolfram has started getting developing mobile applications. I’ve already reviewed their Astronomy and Chemistry course assistant apps, which are excellent and inexpensive products for students. This review is on Wolfram’s Tides Calculator, one of their new Reference apps for the iPhone/Touch and iPad.

The tides are relevant to many people around the world that live on or near the coast, or that make a living on the sea. Wolfram provides a low cost ($.99) app that is easy to transport and provides good information about the tides, including Current Tide, High Tide, Low Tide, Average Tide, Tide Forecast/History, and Extras.

Getting Started

I downloaded the Tides app from the iTunes store and it was a typically easy install onto my iPod Touch. I selected the first option (Current Tide), and and the default location was set to Current Location (handy of you are on the go and want the tide info for your current site. As tides are not as much of an issue for us in Minneapolis, MN, I entered Maine for the Location and pressed the Compute button. In a couple of seconds, the app displayed a chart for the tides covering 24 hours, with the time and height of high and low tides for Maine. As I entered the search in the afternoon, the returned results covered the current and next days which is better than forcing one to go to a different path to get the tide info for the next day. One thing to note: this data was computed based on historical data and did not include weather-influenced factors like hurricanes, so take this into consideration if you need current information and bad weather impacts your location.

There is other useful data on the same screen. The tide reporting station for Maine is at Bangor, at the Penobscot River, and the coordinates of the station are included (good for using with Google Earth), along with the relative position of the station in relation to the state of Maine. Another bit of useful information on the screen is sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset. Not all of the screen information is visible at the same time, but it is easy to move around or zoom out as needed.

Next I checked out the High Tide and Low Tide information. I again used Bangor Maine as the location and essentially saw the same information displayed as I saw at the Current Tide screen, although the graphs highlighted the high and low tides respectably. I used Bangor again for the Average Tide option, and there were a few extra bits of information (range of tide, average high tide, average of high and low tides, and average low tide), but had mostly the same information as was shown at the Current Tide screen.

The next option I tested was Tide Forecast/History. Using my favorite (Bangor, Maine) location, I retrieved the tides forecast for 11/24/2011 (Thanksgiving Day in the US) and saw a nice 24 hr graph of the expected tides, with times/heights of high/low tides along with sun/moon rise/set times. Good data for a forecast. Next I left the location alone and changed the date to 11/24/2010 and the app downloaded the historical tide data for last year – also, good data.

Finally I checked out the Extras options and they were: Sunrise and Sunset, Sun Exposure, UV Forecast, Weather and Forecast, Moon Phase, and Properties of Oceans. For Sunrise and Sunset, I retrieved the information for my current location (Minneapolis, MN) for tomorrow and saw the data, plus the duration of daylight (good to know as we edge closer to the shortest day of the year), the altitude and azimuth for my location, a nice graph of the sun path for tomorrow, some cool (to amateur astronomers) star properties, an image of the current Earth/Moon/Sun configuration (science teachers, paying attention?), and the 10 closest stars (including Wolf 359, mentioned once or twice in Star Trek: The Next Generation). Excellent information for educators and astronomers.

Another Extras option is Sun Exposure, where you can enter your location, date, and skin type to compute the most appropriate sun tan lotion needed to protect your body. Nice. With my skin type, I will need an SPF 15 if I head outdoors tomorrow. I like the UV Forecast option too – it gave the current UV conditions, along with a map of most of the country that showed this data, along with the expected time to get a sunburn (based on skin type and exposure), and the recommended SPF factor for sun tan lotion.

The next Extras item I checked out was the weather forecast. I regularly check weather when I fly, and I’m just as interested in the weather when driving in Minnesota in January and February, so this is one of my favorite extras.The forecast for the current day and next day is useful, and the graph for the temperatures for the upcoming week is also good to know (especially as the highs and lows for each day is also included). I also find the precipitation rate and wind speed forecast graphs to be very useful and both enhance this aspect of the app. I should add you can get weather forecasts for other locations than current location, so this could be a nice assistant when planning a vacation.

The next option in Extras is Moon Phase, which provides good info if you’re wanting to look at the Moon. The last Extras option is Properties of Oceans and it provides Ocean Information, Ocean Properties, Speed of Sound in the Ocean, and Pressure Under Water data. Good information for planning a dive, don’t you think?

Likes

  • The price is excellent, and the UI is simple yet functional.
  • This is a good tool to use to help plan a vacation.
  • The app does what good apps do – it retrieves information over the internet (from Wolfram servers), reducing the footprint of the downloaded/installed app.
  • I like how the locations default to the current location (great for lazy mobile device owners like myself).
  • The amount of information in Extras is excellent and really expands the app. Weather is my absolute favorite option in this app.

Dislikes

  • Didn’t like seeing the same information in Current Tides duplicated in the High, Low, and Average Tide screens. I’d rather have buttons at the Current Tide screen that would provide the additional information. I think it might have been better to release a Weather App, which includes Tide information, that a Tides App with weather information.

Conclusion

The information is useful to a lot of people, not just sailors. As a fiction writer, I may need to know past or future tides that affect the characters in some of my stories, and this inexpensive app would be an excellent resource. While I know many people (including me) prefer free apps, it is hard to argue with the low price for this app.

Recommendation

Buy it. Skip the burger on the McDonald’s value menu and buy this app. It is interesting information, and good, inexpensive apps need to be purchased to encourage vendors to continue to provide quality apps at a low price. Wolfram currently has another 8 Reference Apps available, and the next one I’ll review is their Fractals App.

Please let our readers know if you’ve tried this app and your impression of the software. Sharing experiences on expensive apps is important, but so is telling others about good, low cost applications.

Be well.