An example of a DarkSide ransomware notice that appears on victims’ computer screens

Extortion network may have ties to Russia.

BBC:

The US government issued emergency legislation on Sunday after the largest fuel pipeline in the US was hit by a ransomware cyber-attack.

The Colonial Pipeline carries 2.5 million barrels a day – 45% of the East Coast’s supply of diesel, petrol and jet fuel.

The operator took itself offline on Friday after the cyber-attack and work to restore service is continuing.

The US government has relaxed rules on fuel being transported by road

It means drivers in 18 states can work extra or more flexible hours when transporting refined petroleum products.

US fuel prices at the pump were largely unaffected on Monday, but there are fears that could change if the shutdown is prolonged.

Independent oil market analyst Gaurav Sharma told the BBC a lot of fuel was now stranded at refineries in Texas.

“Unless they sort it out by Tuesday, they’re in big trouble,” said Mr Sharma. “The first areas to be hit would be Atlanta and Tennessee, then the domino effect goes up to New York.”

He said oil futures traders were now “scrambling” to meet demand, at a time when US inventories are declining, and demand – especially for fuel for cars – is on the rise as consumers return to the roads and the economy recovers.

The temporary waiver issued by the Department of Transportation enables oil products to be shipped in tankers up to New York, but this would not be anywhere near enough to match the pipeline’s capacity, Mr Sharma warned.

Sources said the ransomware attack was likely to have been caused by a cyber-criminal gang called DarkSide, who infiltrated Colonial’s network and locked the data on some computers and servers, demanding a ransom on Friday.

The gang tried to take almost 100 gigabytes of data hostage, threatening to leak it onto the internet, but the FBI and other government agencies worked with private companies to respond. The cloud computing system the hackers used to collect the stolen data was taken offline on Saturday, Reuters reported.

Colonial’s data did not appear to have been transferred from that system anywhere else, potentially limiting the hackers’ leverage to extort or further embarrass the company, the news agency said.

On Sunday, Colonial said that although its four main pipelines remain offline, some smaller lines between terminals and delivery points were now operational.

“Quickly after learning of the attack, Colonial proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat. These actions temporarily halted all pipeline operations and affected some of our IT systems, which we are actively in the process of restoring,” the firm said.

It added it would bring its full system back online “only when we believe it is safe to do so, and in full compliance with the approval of all federal regulations”.

CBS:

The cyberextortion attempt that’s forced the shutdown of a vital U.S. pipeline was carried out by a criminal gang known as DarkSide that cultivates a Robin Hood image of stealing from corporations and giving a cut to charity, two people close to the investigation said Sunday.

The shutdown, meanwhile, stretched into its third day, with the Biden administration loosening regulations of the transport of petroleum products on highways as part of an “all-hands-on-deck” effort to avoid disruptions in the fuel supply.

Experts said gasoline prices are unlikely to be affected if the pipeline is back to normal in the next few days but that the incident – the worst cyberattack to date on critical U.S. infrastructure – should serve as a wake-up call to companies about the vulnerabilities they face.

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Not all bad.

Made me smile a few times.

I did not know that Elon had Asperger’s – but that sure explains a lot.

Washington Post:

“I’m actually making history tonight as the first person with Asperger’s to host SNL,” he said, to much applause from the audience. “Or at least the first to admit it. So I won’t make a lot of eye contact with the cast tonight. But don’t worry, I’m pretty good at running ‘human’ in emulation mode.”

This announcement — which appears to be the first time Musk has publicly said he has Asperger’s syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum — got plenty of pickup online Saturday night. Although many social media users quickly corrected Musk’s assertion that he was the first, and pointed out that former SNL cast member Dan Aykroyd, who returned to host in 2003, has spoken out over the years about his Asperger’s diagnosis as a child.

Then Musk attempted to explain his tweets, known to have quite an impact on the stock market. “Look, I know I sometimes say or post strange things, but that’s just how my brain works. To anyone I’ve offended, I just want to say: I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars on a rocket ship. Did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?”

Washington Post:

A ransomware attack caused a major East Coast fuel pipeline operator to shut down its entire network on Friday, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The attack on top U.S. operator Colonial Pipeline appears to have been carried out by a criminal group, but federal officials and the private security firm Mandiant are still investigating the matter, one official said.

Colonial Pipeline said in a statement on Friday that it had temporarily shut down all its pipeline operations after being hit by a cyber attack. It said it had notified law enforcement and other federal agencies.

Colonial’s 5,500 miles of pipelines carry fuel from refineries on the Gulf Coast to customers in the southern and eastern United States. It says it transports 45 percent of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, reaching 50 million Americans.

The company learned of the attack on some of its “information technology” or corporate network systems Friday, but “proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat,” it said. In addition to contacting federal officials and law enforcement, it has also hired a cybersecurity firm to investigate the incident.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on U.S. officials saying it was a ransomware attack.

The U.S. officials and experts in industrial control security said such attacks are more common than publicly known and that most just do not get reported.

There are absolutely cases in industrial operations where ransomware impacts operations,’’ said Robert M. Lee, CEO and cofounder of Dragos, a major cybersecurity firm that handles incidents in the industrial control sector. “Oftentimes, though, that impact isn’t the impact that gets news media attention. They may not be to the level that this case is, but there are lots of industrial control companies that are battling ransomware around the United States.”

Euronews:

….a growing number of people believe that the only way to bring back what we’ve lost is through trusting natural environments to recover themselves- a process called rewilding. For some, it can be a contentious issue with worries about the reintroduction of apex predators like wolves and the Eurasian Lynx.

The progressive conservation movement, however, has found particular resonance with one European nation.

Rewilding is based on the principle that nature knows best when it comes to protecting itself.

But due to the damage we have already done to the natural world, it needs a helping hand to recover to the point where it can do that. Across Europe, we’ve lost massive amounts of native flora and fauna that are essential to keeping our ecosystems balanced.

To rewild our environment, we need to create the correct conditions. This can be done through actions like reintroducing species that have disappeared, allowing forests to regenerate and preventing the fragmentation of rivers.

The theory goes that by giving nature a little push and then stepping back, we can put a stop to the incredible loss of biodiversity and worsening climate crisis.

A classic example of the success of rewilding can be found in Yellowstone National Park in the US. When wolves were hunted to near extinction at the start of the 20th century, their prey multiplied. Elk took over and their exploding numbers overgrazed the land.

It prevented trees like aspen and willow from reaching maturity. That in turn meant songbirds lost their habitat and beavers no longer had materials with which to build their dams. Riverbanks started to erode and water temperatures rose without the natural shade of the trees. The loss of Yellowstone’s wolves had a cascade effect on the park’s entire ecosystem.

Then, in 1995, 14 wolves were captured in Jasper National Park, Canada and transported across the border by wildlife officials. They were acclimated to their new surroundings and then released into the park to replace those lost in the preceding centuries.

Within 20 years, their numbers had boomed and the renewed presence of this apex predator had started to bring balance back to Yellowstone. Now the reintroduction is considered a model for how seemingly small steps like these can help to heal the natural environments we’ve ravaged.

So could steps like these work for another ecosystem suffering from the impact of centuries of humanity’s destructive actions?

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Above, could it be that 40 years of sustained attack on the very idea of science, history, and fact could have left us vulnerable to fantastical claims and conspiracy theories?

New York Times:

There’s a decent chance you’ve had at least one of these rumors, all false, relayed to you as fact recently: that President Biden plans to force Americans to eat less meat; that Virginia is eliminating advanced math in schools to advance racial equality; and that border officials are mass-purchasing copies of Vice President Kamala Harris’s book to hand out to refugee children.

All were amplified by partisan actors. But you’re just as likely, if not more so, to have heard it relayed from someone you know. And you may have noticed that these cycles of falsehood-fueled outrage keep recurring.

We are in an era of endemic misinformation — and outright disinformation. Plenty of bad actors are helping the trend along. But the real drivers, some experts believe, are social and psychological forces that make people prone to sharing and believing misinformation in the first place. And those forces are on the rise.

“Why are misperceptions about contentious issues in politics and science seemingly so persistent and difficult to correct?” Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth College political scientist, posed in a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It’s not for want of good information, which is ubiquitous. Exposure to good information does not reliably instill accurate beliefs anyway. Rather, Dr. Nyhan writes, a growing body of evidence suggests that the ultimate culprits are “cognitive and memory limitations, directional motivations to defend or support some group identity or existing belief, and messages from other people and political elites.”

Put more simply, people become more prone to misinformation when three things happen. First, and perhaps most important, is when conditions in society make people feel a greater need for what social scientists call ingrouping — a belief that their social identity is a source of strength and superiority, and that other groups can be blamed for their problems.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as rational beings who put truth-seeking above all else, we are social animals wired for survival. In times of perceived conflict or social change, we seek security in groups. And that makes us eager to consume information, true or not, that lets us see the world as a conflict putting our righteous ingroup against a nefarious outgroup.

This need can emerge especially out of a sense of social destabilization. As a result, misinformation is often prevalent among communities that feel destabilized by unwanted change or, in the case of some minorities, powerless in the face of dominant forces.

Framing everything as a grand conflict against scheming enemies can feel enormously reassuring. And that’s why perhaps the greatest culprit of our era of misinformation may be, more than any one particular misinformer, the era-defining rise in social polarization.

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Two new studies showing that if you are uncertain about what is exactly going on in Antarctica, and what it means for long term sea level, you are pretty much keeping up with the science.

Washington Post:

Scientists struggling to understand the threat of sea level rise on a warming Earth found Wednesday that amid lingering uncertainty, this much is clear: Meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement remains humanity’s best hope for preserving current coastlines in the 21st century.

At the same time, they diverged over the risks posed by the biggest wild card, the Antarctic ice sheet, which contains by far the most ice on the planet and holds the potential to unleash tens of feet of sea level rise.

Ice losses from Antarctica have been accelerating in recent years, and research suggests that in warm periods in the Earth’s past (similar to the one that humanity is now fueling), the ice sheet shed a great deal of its mass. But a central issue is how fast that could occur this time around and whether today’s computer simulations can adequately capture what will really happen, especially during the lifetimes of people currently living.

Two studies published Wednesday in the journal Nature underscore how the answers to that complex scientific puzzle remain unsettled.

In one study, a group of 84 international experts using hundreds of simulations found a relatively muted Antarctic response as the climate warms in coming decades. That’s largely because a rise in snow falling on the ice sheet could substantially offset the loss of ice to the ocean at the continent’s perimeter, the study says. Only a minority of models, the scientists noted, produced a more alarming response.

(I spoke to British Antarctic Survey expert Jonathan Bamber on this question in 2017)

Meanwhile, in a second study, a smaller group of experts published a model that included an additional process known as “marine ice-cliff instability” that factors into the potential for faster collapses of ice from large glaciers perched against the ocean. This research found that a startling amount of sea level rise could result if global warming reaches about three degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. The world already has exceeded one degree Celsius of warming.

(see top for my talk with Rob DeConto, one of these current authors, from 2017 also)

At this point, the authors found, ice losses could greatly accelerate beginning in the second half of this century and extending well beyond it, with particularly rapid sea level rise in the 2100s and 2200s.

“For managing coastal flooding, we still need to stay really flexible because we haven’t pinned down that uncertainty in future sea level rise,” said Tamsin Edwards, an expert on the Antarctic ice sheet at King’s College London and lead author of the first study. “We need to be able to adapt to a wide range.”

Rob DeConto, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who led the latter study with scientists at institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and China, agreed that the future remains unwritten, and said what happens will depend in part on decisions humans are making now.

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Got a bit of a response from a bunch of smart folks the other day to a tweet about Geothermal.

Indeed.

Among the smart people I’ve spoken to recently, the word geothermal has been popping up more frequently.
The useful CNBC video above helps clarify some of the various flavors of the technology – but is kind of wide open on just how much of a player it could be.
Either a 10 – 20 percent solution, which could fill the gap after we build 80 plus percent solar and wind, thus competing with modular nuclear, or, some players insist, might be the whole ball game.

Biggest difference from a few years ago,

Below, Michael Webber of U. Texas is typical of the newer mentions I’ve been hearing.

What scientists do in down time.

Associated Press:

Arizona is prepared to lose about one-fifth of the water the state gets from the Colorado River in what could be the first federally declared shortage in the river that supplies millions of people in the U.S. West and Mexico, state officials said Thursday.

Arizona stands to lose more than any other state in the Colorado River basin that also takes in parts of Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Nevada and California. That’s because Arizona agreed long ago to be the first in line for cuts in exchange for federal funding for a canal system to deliver the water to Arizona’s major metropolitan areas.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project, which manages the canal system, said the anticipated reductions will be painful, but the state has prepared for decades for a shortage through conservation, water banking, partnerships and other efforts.

“It doesn’t make it any less painful. But at least we know what is coming,” said Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project.

Farmers in central Arizona’s Pinal County, who already have been fallowing land amid the ongoing drought and improving wells to pump groundwater in anticipation of the reductions, will bear the brunt of the cuts. Most farms there are family farms that are among the state’s top producers of livestock, dairy, cotton, barley, wheat and alfalfa.

In Pinal County, up to 40% of farmland that relies on Colorado River water could be fallowed over the next few years, said Stefanie Smallhouse, president of the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation. 

“That’s a big blow,” she said. “I can’t think of many other businesses that can take a 40% cut in their income within a few months and still be sustainable. When you farm, it’s not only a business, it’s your livelihood.”

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projected earlier this month that Lake Mead, which delivers water to Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico, will fall below 1,075 feet (328 meters) for the first time in June 2021. If the lake remains below that level in August when the bureau issues its official projection for 2022, Arizona and Nevada will lose water.

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In 1956, the Bell Telephone Science Hour produced “Our Mr Sun” – a look not only at our knowledge of solar physics, but also the just-glimmering beginnings of solar’s application for power production.

The film was part of a series, directed by Frank Capra, of really exceptionally (for the time) great science communication presentations that captured the imagination of the sputnik generation. (Full movie here)

In the short clip above, our host Dr Frank Baxter, (an actual PhD, but of Shakespeare rather than physics) explains the origins of solar photovoltaic cells to his assistant, played by Eddie Albert, and some animated companions.
In a very cool Mid-century modern animation sequence, a cartoon “Dr Baxter” shows us the process for baking new solar cells.


In those days, the cost of solar was truly astronomical, and only suitable where cost was no object, like in powering spacecrafts.

A lot has changed.

I’m working on a video looking at just how realistic President Biden’s goal of a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 really is.
Big factor is the enormous price drop in solar photovoltaics.
Below, a German production examines the factors that pushed solar down the cost curve.

Below, interesting clip of a 2015-ish discussion with MIT’s Ray Kurzweil – you’ll see Elon Musk flash on the screen as well momentarily. Kurzweil has been saying for some time he’s not worried about climate change because solar energy is going to come on so fast, so cheap. (by his logic we’re about 10 years away from 100 percent solar)

I’ll be interviewing on of today’s most bullish techno-optimists tomorrow to find out more. Stay tuned.