Nov 19 2012

The Numbers Racket Could Kill Us All

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

From Rolling Stone:

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

By Bill McKibben

…here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.


The minus 99 above is a factorial in scientific number notation.  Mr. McKibben hasn’t shared any basis of the math with us that would allow anyone to verify the figure but I am not in the denial business.  I assume that Mr. McKibben is simply accepting the math done by geophysicists.

Rather surprisingly, one of the denialists is the new math superstar, Nate Silver.

Thereby hangs a tale showing that survival of the human species and maybe all species on earth is threatened as much by Mr. McKibben as by the Koch Brothers, Exxon and any number of bad guys.

The math is quite easy. You need not be a Tennessee inbred with extra digits giving him higher mathematical powers to see the problem.

To people like Mr. McKibben the primary answer is solar, the ultra-expensive energy source that gobbles up scarce resources in money, materials and labor and fails when it is most needed because the sun goes out every night.  It is not the only intermittent (sometime) power source that the new environmentalists push and they even give a call out to the greatest power source on earth, geothermal, but only that which requires cutting edge technology that has been pursued going on a century or so with the most meager results to date.  They fiercely attack thermal biomass that could save the forests and eliminate waste that pollutes land, air and water without any addition to carbon above ground while destroying far more potent greenhouse gases than CO2.

Here’s your math.  You will need only two fingers or two toes or whatever pair you have available, even two heads that the Bill McKibbens of the world fear you will get from eating GMO’s.

Experts looking at the energy supply figure that solar and wind can supply 20% of the power needed by humans to maintain civilization, 40% at most.  Let us call it 50%.

For the rest you need baseload renewables to replace fossil fuels.

Take away one of your two fingers or toes or heads or whatever and the remainder can end human life and perhaps all life on the planet.

Then Mother Earth, a most bounteous lady who can turn into a mass killer beyond compare (and has) when her simple rules are disobeyed, can try again to evolve an intelligent species if she is still up to it.  She has obviously failed this time.

Best,  Terry


Skip to comment form

  1. terryhallinan

    than a mathematician.

    The Plumbers Union was delighted and made Einstein an honorary plumber.

    Einstein was smarter than even most give him credit for being.  

  2. ek hornbeck

    Solar isn’t as ultra expensive as you may think given the fossil energy subsidies and recent economies of scale in photo electric conversion.

    Nor is it so intermittent as to preclude it’s reliable use.  Screw exotic battery tech, a pump and a holding pond will do to even out supply on cloudy days.

    The problem is portability particularly in relation to transportation uses and I think diesel/electric hybrids will work just as well on roads as they have done for the last half century on rails.

    CSX notes in their ads that it takes just a gallon of fuel to move a ton of freight from D.C. to Boston.

    Not so bad.

  3. terryhallinan

    [Most electricity is generated by burning coal today.]

    I am not about to defend subsidies for fossil fuels while ignoring the enormous environmental and health costs.

    I think it would be hard to top the example of the billions spent on pumping oil from “iceberg ally” off the coast of Nova Scotia.  Helicopters actually lasso the icebergs headed for an oil platform but some of the mavericks, ranging up to the equivalent of a 10-story building, get away and slam into the platforms.  Early attempts to blow up the icebergs resulted in little more than lots of ice chips.  Gale force winds are a constant and obviously high waves.  

    It doesn’t take much for an objective observer to see that there is a lot more energy there than the dribble one can get from the undersea oil well that is supported by custom, lethargy, monopoly – and, of course, subsidies.

    But solar also gets a hefty dose of subsidy while yielding precious little bang for the bucks spent.  And that is only sometime and erratically at that.  Nobody wants power only when the sun shines and wind blows.  Increasing ability to utilize minimum light is fine but does not solve the problem of intermittency.

    We Swedes invented the solar airplane [“Watch out for those &*^%$ clouds, Ollie].  We Swedes are not best known for our intellectual prowess.  [We – my wife and I – are Swedes when we are not Irish, Finn, Saami, Cherokee and Texan.]  The solar planes actually fly as drones but obviously need substantial power storage from batteries.  

    There is no real need to utilize the high-priced, sometime alternative energy except in certain isolated instances where solar and wind can serve splendidly as they have for eons.

    The very first geothermal power station in Italy has been supplying power for over a century, interrupted only by bombing during WWII.  When Al Gore visited the Philippines he congratulated the President for being #2 next to the U.S. in geothermal power.  But we are numero only because an incredible pioneer was drilling for geothermal power back in the 1950’s.  B.C. McCabe brought in The Geysers, still the largest geothermal power producer in all the world at less than half its peak power production.  McCabe’s first born was the victim of a hostile takeover by Union Oil and subsequent vampire management reduced interest in the technology.  Union Oil was mining hot water rather than heat.  The cost was cheaper than any fossil fuel.  Prices charged for electricity were discounted from a fossil fuel index and Union Oil reaped a huge profit for a time like an early day Romney.  B.C. became a very rich old man with a broken heart

    You think there is not enough municipal waste and sewage to supply power?  How about removing the kindling from forests instead of letting them and the forest critters burn and fill the atmosphere with carbon and all manner of toxic substances?  Not natural say certain environmentalists.  Let the forests burn.

    How about gathering kudzu, the plant that ate the south and a whole slew of invasive species.  My favorite for the bonfire would be “rock snot.”


    This monster that drives New Zealanders to homicidal rage has invaded a lot more than New York.  It quickly turns sparkling clean streams into stinking graves for most other life.

    The Swedes even burned dead rabbits for heat chancing the wrath of PETA.  The Vikings seem to have bested PETA – quite an achievement.

    But we gotta be natural people and leave the mess be and look skyward away from the bounty of Mother Earth for a dribble or two when the sun is out and the wind blows.

    Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    But then I am a Swede when I’m not something else.  Maybe there’s some Scotch that was not all drunk up.  My father never told me.  Wanted to keep it for himself I guess, being from Ireland and all.

    Best,  Terry

  4. ek hornbeck

    Geothermal is just as good.

    Likewise I have no problem with renewable biomass except from a carbon standpoint, but it does clean up the kudzu.

  5. terryhallinan

    Likewise I have no problem with renewable biomass except from a carbon standpoint

    Your best argument IMO on that ground is that the velocity of carbon recycling is accelerated much like the convoluted arguments over money supply being affected by the rapidity of turnover.

    But a rotting tree trunk or, for that matter a decaying standing dead tree like the vast number in Yellowstone, or hardly much of a sequestration and are a source of far more potent greenhouse gases, most specifically methane.

    Obviously a forest fire introduces a whole goddam forest full of carbon and other noxious substances into the atmosphere.

    I am not wild about agriculture used for biomass but I have been enchanted by a Minnesota farmer’s co-op that got a bundle of money for growing giant alfalfa for food and fuel.  Hundreds of farmers in states beyond Minnesota’s joined in an effort to build a 135MW power plant to burn the inedible parts of the alfalfa separated automatically by machinery the co-op had devised.

    Then the regulators stepped in and for at least 15 years the Minnesota Alfalfa Farmers Co-Op fought for a license.  A permit for fuel pellets was finally issued (food pellets for hayburners have been sold for years) but the farmers have been reduced to a few diehards, the originator of the idea finally quit in disgust a few months ago, the power plant has been abandoned and what is left will be a tiny fragment of what once was to be.

    Bad idea anyway?

    One can argue the point.  Alfalfa is a far more potent fixer of nitrogen in the soil and leaves very deep roots when harvested.  Alternation of corn with soybeans, which is common, is a poor alternative.  The feed pellets should prevent the threat of foundering in livestock.  I can still remember the panic long ago when sudden rainstorms caused a rush to get the livestock out of the alfalfa field.  I think alfalfa pellets should address the overblown (IMHO) rhetoric about the horrors of grain feed.

    Admittedly I was rather easy to persuade of one agriculture that could be useful in reducing global warming.  In some Asian countries, the farm machinery consumes alcohol alone, just like people :-), in producing non-fossil fuels according to what I have read.

    In essence, I am a rabid believer in eliminating – not reducing – fossil fuels something like one fundamentalist Christian telling his fellow Baptists to go to hell if they wouldn’t vote for a Catholic.  There was only one Harry Truman ever.  Now all we have is men of straw who are useful only in shatting biomass.


    Best,  Terry

Comments have been disabled.