What do WW2 and climate change have in common?

Was WW2 about national food security? If so, what implications does this have for geopolitics as climate change starts to bite? This “Crash course” in world history came up on my TED talk feed, and so I had to take a look. It takes 10 minutes to briefly summarise WW2, and then dives into causes and consequences.

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Fossil fuels in disguise

Hi all,
Off-grid or wind & solar micro-grids may not really be significant energy sources — IF they try to go baseload. If a little village somewhere is happy to only have power a third of the day, then the solar might actually become a net energy source, eventually adding about 7 to 10 times the energy it took to make the solar energy in the first place.

But if the village wants power at night, and has a battery bank (or even better, a local pumped water hydro dam), then it’s not actually a very significant energy source. It’s actually coal fired electricity disguised as solar and wind, and moved to the little village, and dumped there. It simply takes that much energy to make energy storage systems!

I’m more convinced of this than ever, ever since thinking about thin-film Solar PV. Thin film Solar PV gets its high energy return not by producing 15 times more energy than regular PV. Uh uh. It gets it by being 15 times more energy efficient to produce. Sadly, it still produces roughly the same amount of energy as regular PV. So the same amount of output is still divided by the same energy cost of storage, however little energy input went into making the thin-film PV.

In fact, the thin-film could hypothetically be ‘free’ to make (with no energy cost) and it wouldn’t really change the overall ERoEI at all.

The ERoEI of the overall system = Return / (PV + storage). The massive investment in building a huge pumped hydro dam or battery bank still dominates!

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Salty land or water? Grow potatoes!

The Guardian reports that salt tolerant potatoes can survive salty water and grow food where previously the land was dying.

But thanks to a partnership with Dutch development consultants MetaMeta, several tonnes of the Texel seed potatoes are now on their way to Pakistan where thousands of hectares of what until now had been unproductive land because of sea water encroachment have been set aside for them.

If the experiment works and the potatoes adapt to the Asian climate, it could transform the lives of not only small farmers in Pakistan and Bangladesh,, where floods and sea water intrusion wipe out crops with increasing regularity, but also worldwide the 250 million people who live on salt-afflicted soil.

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Smart money and the quicker solution

A post to a friend:

Building passive solar homes, retrofitting smart meters to a smart grid, creating smart devices that interact with signals from the smart-grid, and even building huge seawater hydro dam-batteries (because most new conventional river-hydro dams should not be built for local ecological reasons) all takes time. France increased their nuclear grid 73% in 11 years. That’s the kind of speed we need. Nukes will do a lot, but they’ll *only* shut down coal. We still need all that extra money to convert our transport fuels to ‘rechargeable’ batteries, hydrogen, synfuel, whatever. Here’s the kicker. I think it’s honest to say we’d be struggling to run our homes and industries on a 100% renewable grid. Just matching our electricity requirements to when the juice is flowing is hard enough. Trying to max out how much electricity we can use in the day, super-cooling phase change materials in the bedrooms to cool us overnight. (As the planet warms, we’ll need cooler rooms in summer or people die! Think Russia a few years ago, where 50,000 people died.)

Fuel becomes the question. *If* we have baseload reliable electricity, NREL USA have stated 85% of American driving could be recharged on existing overnight grid capacity.
We have a choice: either we experiment with a whole new society with smart grids, super-sized grids (to bring distant solar thermal and wind to where it’s used), smart appliances, smart homes, smart industries, all just so we can get stuff to work *overnight* on unreliable renewable electricity, or we can just swap coal for nukes and save all that experimental money to replace oil as well. I know where I’d put my money.

Posted in Global Warming, Nuclear, Solar | Leave a comment

Minister defends divestment

An Anglican minister I know wrote:

The goal of divestment is not to cripple these companies economically, which at this point is basically impossible. The goal of divesting from polluters is revoking their social license, to cease giving them the moral cover to keep owning the government through their lobbying, to reposition them as politically toxic, so that politicians treat them more like the tobacco industry (and generally try to avoid being seen in the same room or receiving their money), to cripple their ability to keep setting the rules of the game, in order that more sane rules might be developed.

This strategy has been very effective in the past (e.g. Apartheid South Africa) and is a necessary, though not sufficient step towards opening a space where real climate action can become mainstream.

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Canada’s dead trees to build ‘plyscrapers’

Climate change warmed up Canada’s winters for so long that pine beetles destroyed billions of trees across Canada’s vast forests. Those trees are dead or dying. They will release billions of tons of CO2 when they rot. What to do with beetle-infected pine trees? Build skyscrapers out of them of course. Or is that plyscrapers?

The Guardian reports that this could provide a huge economic and environmental incentive for Canada to convert to building all new towers from wood, locking that CO2 away for centuries!

One other important breakthrough came in British Columbia, a Canadian province half-covered in forest. Since 1996, more than 16m hectares have been destroyed by North America’s native mountain pine beetle, which releases a blue-staining fungus into the wood, halting the flow of nutrients and water and the killing the tree.

The province faced the prospect of billions of these dead lodgepole pines triggering a huge release of carbon dioxide – until a means of using this undesirable blue-stained lumber for building was realised. British Columbia promotes its use through the Wood First Act, passed in 2009, which requires all new, publicly financed construction projects to first consider wood as the primary building material.
Guardian October 2014

Posted in Industrial Ecosystems, Materials & Metals, New Urbanism | Leave a comment

How do you pronounce ‘new’?

New? Do you say the flat “noo” or the ringing “n-you”? I’ve noticed flat “noo” creeping into movies and news reports, but it’s n-you everyone! This is how civilisations fall! One minute we’re dropping the you sound from new, and the next minute there are barbarians at the gates. Or, we wake up and discover that we are the barbarians!
Click the speaker icon on the right here to hear Google Translate’s verdict on how to pronounce ‘new’.
Google Translate

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