September 15, 2014
One of the tasks of the Texas State Board of Education is to update curriculum standards and textbooks for Texas schoolchildren. The Texas school system is so large — 4.8 million textbook-reading schoolchildren as of 2011 — that revisions made by the board are often included in school books across the country, though digital technology has lessened this effect in recent years. In 2010, the board got a lot of attention when it approved over 100 amendments — many of which had a very clear conservative political agenda — to the social studies and economics curriculum standards. Here are some of the more pointed proposals.
Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Father considered by many to be the author of the Declaration of Independence, is also credited with coining the phrase “separation of church and state.” According to The New York Times, that coinage didn’t make him very popular with the conservative members of the board. They removed Jefferson from a list of great Enlightenment philosophers — including John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu and Jean Jacques Rousseau — who inspired political revolutions from the 1700s to today. They also removed the word “Enlightenment” and added Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. After much criticism, they added Jefferson back, but left out “Enlightenment” resulting in a standard very different from the original.
Texas Board of Education member David Bradley wants to set the record straight on global warming.
“Whether global warming is a myth or whether it’s actually happening, that’s very much up for debate,” Bradley said. “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.”
September 15, 2014
What does Elon Musk know that others don’t?
Last week, Tesla released sketches of the future plant. It’s powered by renewable energy andshaped like a diamond. So why has Musk designed a gigafactory to produce batteries for half a million cars a year (twice the number that’s been put on the road by all companies combined)? Because it’s increasingly looking necessary.
Deutsche Bank analyst Rod Lache last month increased his estimate for sales of the Model S and Model X to 129,000 units in 2017, from a previously estimated 83,000. Tesla can reach its 500,000 annual run rate before the end of the decade, Lache said, in time to put the gigafactory to full use.
Tesla’s growth will be “much steeper, their mix will be much richer, and their costs will ultimately be much lower than we previously assumed,” Lache wrote in a report on Aug. 11.
This doesn’t mean you should rush out and buy Tesla stock. Just 11 out of 20 analysts tracked by Bloomberg give the company a “buy” rating, and the stock price is 261 times estimated earnings, compared with a 12.5 estimated P/E for Ford Motor Co. Even Musk admitted last week that the stock price is “kind of high” right now.
Still, it’s easy to get caught up in Musk’s vision for the future of cars. Defying skeptics, Musk has established the biggest U.S. solar company by market value, built a private space companythat’s making deliveries to the International Space Station, and has conjured a $35 billion car company out of thin air.
Now the dude’s got diamonds in his eyes.
September 15, 2014
And painting the grass green. If you have enough money, you can deny that you live in a desert, for a while.
Each morning at the crack of dawn, trucks laden with precious H₂O trundle down lanes towards parched estates.
The buyers are paying up to $80 (£49) a unit – a unit is 748 gallons – for water that normally costs a maximum of $6.86 (£4.23) a unit from the water district.
The trucks are now a common sight in Montecito, passing by Sotheby’s International Realty and an haute couture clothes store. But the origin of the water is something of a mystery.
“I see the trucks every day. They’re like big gas trucks with a water sign on,” said Tori Delgado, who works in the Montecito wine and cheese shop. “But nobody knows where they’re getting it from.”
The water is likely being sold by private individuals elsewhere in California who have wells on their properties.
But wherever it comes from the buyers appear to be staving off the inevitable only temporarily, and many millionaires are turning to conservation instead. Miss Winfrey is prominent among them.
“Two months ago she just said, ‘Turn off the water’, and now there’s not a green blade of grass on that lawn,” a resident who has seen her parched garden told the Telegraph.
At Miss Winfrey’s second and larger Montecito estate – an $85 million affair called Promised Land – the grass is still green but the water bill has also fallen dramatically.
The Montecito Water District has so far banned the watering of gardens in the middle of the day, filling swimming pools at any time, and the building of new homes.
Meanwhile scores of angry residents have lodged appeals for more water. One asked for a supply to save 300 specimen trees – but was told the trees would have to die.
a few paragraphs down, a particularly poignant complaint.
“We cut back. We don’t water anything any more,” he said. “The polo field is brown. We are still able to play but it doesn’t play as good.”
The rapid cost reductions in renewable energy, particularly solar photovoltaic and wind, are threatening the business model of traditional electric generators around the world, promising much greater capacity for individuals and businesses to self generate power, and prompting a brilliant rebranding of renewable energy initiatives at the state level, under the banner of “Energy Freedom”.
A recent move by Wisconsin utility We Energies to not only raise electricity rates on all consumers but also to add an additional charge on those who produce their own energy and sell it back to the grid has sparked outrage within the state and beyond. Theplan would raise the “fixed charge” on all customers’ electric bills from $9 to $16 a month, as well as reduce net metering — a policy that enables customers with solar panels or other forms of distributed generation to sell their excess electricity back to the grid — and add a new charge on these electricity-generating customers.
The result of such a policy, said Matt Neumann, owner of Wisconsin-based SunVest, would be dramatic: “It would not only end solar but remove the economic viability for any renewable energy in Wisconsin.” Neuman, whose company is the largest solar installer in the state, said the demand charge of $3.80 per kilowatt (kW) per month works out to about $220 per year for a 5 kW system, a deterrent for potential solar customers and an unfair penalty for those who have already chosen to go solar.
And by increasing fixed charges by 75 percent, Neumann said the utility is punishing everyone, even those who have taken steps to reduce their electricity consumption. The proposal also seeks to ban third-party ownership of renewable energy systems, meaning those customers who rent or lease, rather than owning the entire system outright.
Jess Williamson, We Energies spokesperson, said the company is “requesting modest increases that will help us to continue to make improvements to improve and modernize our grid, to meet environmental standards” and cover costs associated with maintaining a reliable electricity system. As for the additional charge and reduced compensation for customers who produce their own energy, Williamson said it’s simply a matter of fairness. “Under the current rates, they really don’t pay their fair share of grid operating costs,” she said. “We’re asking for a demand charge and also asking that instead of buying excess energy at a premium rate, that we pay a comparable market rate.”
Bryan Miller, co-chair of The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and Vice President of Public Policy and Power Markets for Sunrun, said the idea that solar customers, who make up just a fraction of one percent of We Energies’ total customer base, are a serious cost to the company is “another reason this is such a frivolous case.” Miller pointed to recent testimony by the Public Service Commission’s own analyst, Corey Singletary, stating, “in light of the fact that the short-term sales risk to the utility appears fairly low, and given that the utility has not presented any evidence as to why such a dramatic increase in customer charges must be undertaken in this proceeding … I believe the Commission may wish to consider holding off on any large increases to fixed charges in this proceeding and instead open a separate generic investigation.”
We Energies’ current rate request comes as its customers already pay the second-highest electric rates in the state. “Since 2005, We Energies’ residential bills have increased 51 percent, while inflation is up 22 percent,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The utility’s parent company, Wisconsin Energy Corp., is currently seeking approval for a $9.1 billion acquisition of Integrys Energy Group — a move that has raised suspicion well beyond Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Tea Party Activist and Renewable Energy Activist Debbie Dooley is touring the state, urging citizens from the left and right to rise up and defend their freedom to generate their own power, both electrical and political.
Is it strange for you being so outspoken on this topic since solar and distributed generation advocates are usually seen as liberal or environmentalists?
A lot of companies with fossil fuel interests try to spin it that way. It’s totally ridiculous. If you can’t discredit the message, you go after the messenger.
This is not a liberal issue, it has become a national security issue for our country. The grid can be attacked. Look at the Silicon Valley attack – they opened fire on some of the substations with AK-47s, took them down, and they just vanished into the night. Our grid is so centralized, it’s a national security issue.
September 15, 2014
“One of the warning signs that a dangerous warming trend is underway in Antarctica will be the breakup of Ice shelves on both coasts of the Antarctic Peninsula, starting with the northernmost and extending gradually southward.”
Dr. John Mercer, “West Antarctic Ice Sheet and CO2 Greenhouse Effect: a Threat of Disaster” Nature, 26 January, 1978
This spring a team of NASA scientists revealed that the combination of rising seas and vulnerable topography in West Antarctica made the collapse of ice shelves around the Admundsen sea all but inevitable. Now, new research focused on events from a decade ago, sheds light on one of the most stunning opening shots of the Antarctic transformation now underway, the unexpected collapse of Larsen B Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Climate scientists have just established what did not make a vast chunk of Antarctic ice shelf break off 12 years ago and start floating northwards. They report in the journal Science that they can rule out instability in the bedrock on which the Larsen-B sheet was grounded. That leaves “surface warming” as the most likely explanation: in other words, it could have been climate change as a consequence of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide that made the 3,250 square kilometres of ice up to 200 metres thick break off from the rest of Antarctica.
This was pretty much the conclusion that many people jumped to at the time, but scientists needed to explore other possible causes, and this cautious confirmation of climate change tells the world something about scientific rigour: only once the sea floor was exposed could researchers, in a series of cruises, make seismic measurements and take samples of the mud below. Scientists have to make certain, and while they take time to make certain, politicians may take time to decide how to react, and then how much to react. Had the case of the Larsen-B ice shelf been an isolated indicator, then perhaps energy secretaries and climate ministers would have been justified in moving at the same glacial pace. But in the 12 years before the dramatic collapse of the ice shelf, and in the 12 years since, researchers on all the world’s continents have performed similar rigorous and repeated checks on many thousands of observations of manmade climate change, and the answers all point in just one direction.
The breakup of Larsen B was portrayed fictionally in the 2004 movie, “The Day After Tomorrow”.
In my most recent video on ice dynamics in Greenland, I pointed out the observations that scientists have made of the effects of surface melt on the acceleration of Greenland’s land-based ice sheet. The most recent analysis of Antarctica’s Larsen B collapse suggests a powerful role for surface warming and meltwater dynamics in the disintegration of the Larsen sea-based ice shelf.
With the ice shelf gone, researchers looking for answers have been able to look at the seafloor that once sat beneath it. In 2006, a research vessel spent some time at the site of the collapse, looking for clues. The findings of that team, led by the Italian National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics’ Michele Rebesco and the University of South Florida’s Eugene Domack, have now been published in the journal Science.
Mapping the seafloor, they identified what looked like a large grounding line ridge more than 10 kilometers out to sea relative to a smaller ridge that probably represents the grounding line of the glacier during the 2002 collapse. The seafloor dipped heading up the fjord that holds Crane Glacier—one of several that had fed into the ice shelf. This is why, once the grounding line failed, the ice retreated rapidly.
September 15, 2014
Naomi Klein has a new book, This Changes Everything, which I have not yet read – but which has gotten a lot of ink, in particular for its supposed theme that capitalism is somehow incompatible with a healthy climate. I’m told that this is not a fair reading of the book, and in the interview above, Klein seems to target a particularly virulent, Koch Brothers, John Birch Society version of capitalism in which any regulations or limits on corporate power are considered violations of “freedom”.
That said, the book trailer, below, seems designed to play into the worst fears and stereotypes of the Fox News crowd, with lots of scary non-caucasions doing scary things, like walking around, talking, linking arms, dancing and drumming and stuff.
In other words, the root of the carbon problem is capitalism, says Klein. Or at least the kind of unfettered, absolutist “disaster capitalism” that was the target of her previous effort, “The Shock Doctrine.” In that sense, the aptly titled “This Changes Everything” might be seen as the third volume in Klein’s controversial and thoroughly researched challenge to neoliberal ideology.
The essence of her argument is that taking on climate change is a fleeting opportunity to right structural wrongs in political and socioeconomic systems that have stood largely unchallenged for decades. Given the problem’s size, Klein says, the only way forward is radical change. So the political right’s willingness to sow doubt about long-settled science and denounce climate moderates as nefarious communists belies not a willful ignorance so much as a recognition of the issue’s real scope.
Klein’s very premise will elicit scoffs from some modern environmentalists, many of whom see in capitalism history’s most efficient engine of social change. Indeed there has been massive growth in renewable energy investment and deployment in the past two decades, and — perhaps tellingly — Klein does not take down clean tech capitalists and entrepreneurs the way she so skillfully dissects big green groups and celebrity billionaires championing their cause du jour. That’s a notable exception in a book that in its subtitle pits “capitalism vs. the climate.”
But clearly something is impeding the movement’s progress. Implicit in this book’s thesis is a battle for the future of environmentalism: Is it in basically good hands, or is the status quo broken beyond repair?
Meanwhile, the reliably right wing Daily Caller points out that among the groups who will be part of this weekends big climate demo in New York, are a number of communist, socialist, and lefty types – making this demonstration exactly like every other civil rights, women’s rights, workers rights, environmental, gay rights, anti-war, or any other kind of remotely lib-to-left demonstration of the last 80 years. A penetrating and astute observation, indeed.