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Showing posts from 2017

Letting Off Steam over Leaky Pipes

Being skeptical of the natural gas boom and, in particular, Dominion-Cove Point's ability to operate for very long, if at all, due to a diminishing reserve of natural gas to export, working to prevent this from happening has not been high on my agenda. However, if tonight's Maryland Public Service Commission hearing in my town was of any help in slowing the runaway train of this plant's start-up, I will be pleased.

I addressed the commission tonight with regard to the changes sought by Dominion alleviating the limits on how much volatile organic compounds (VOCs) could be discharged from leaky pipes and valves. My major points pertained to the need for the commission to not make a rushed decision and to consider amending or rewriting the procedures for leak monitoring and repair.

It would surprise me if the Commission takes action on these recommendations, but I enjoyed having the opportunity to address the public with some cogent observations. If my recommendations were ad…

Welcome to Disasterland

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I was talking to Colin, my next-door neighbor, yesterday about the impact of Hurricane Irma on the Everglades. As a U.S. Park Service biologist, Colin has spent many hours in the Everglades. He  unequivocally stated that the wildlife in the Everglades was seriously harmed by Irma. Yet, the Everglades took the hit for much of the human habitation on Florida's west coast. In a few decades, that won't be the situation since the Everglades will be swamped by rising seas.

Irma was a big hurricane that could have caused a lot more damage, especially if it had tracked up the eastern side of the state. As it turns out, the cost is estimated at $60 billion, yet we haven't figured in the cost of ecosystem damage that, due to threshold effects like loss of the entire Everglades, will precipitate from this and subsequent storms and temperature rise.

Ecosystem services aside, the cost of natural disasters is increasing. Driven in large part by overpopulation and also by global warming,…

A Coming War We Must Strive to Prevent

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Some anger smolders over generations. It depends on the offense. Whatever the eldest of the Paddock boys endured because of his father's criminal legacy could have been behind his one-man orgy of slaughter at an improvised Las Vegas shooting gallery.

Seething over the same time frame, the bitter anger of North Koreans against America for the devastation caused by bombardment in the Korean war could soon lead to a torrent of violence that makes Mr. Paddock's high mark all but forgotten. Violence could be unleashed by nuclear missile(s) hitting Guam or Japan. It wouldn't stop there, since not for nothing has the U.S. brooded over its thousands of nuclear eggs these many decades.

A second Korean war is not inevitable. There are some intricate diplomatic maneuvers that could resolve or de-escalate the conflict. Less certain is whether a war with China is likely nonetheless. Though Graham Allison's historical analysis of what he calls Thucydides's Trap allows him to cla…

Republican Civil War, Let's Get it On

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As we shoe-gaze over the embarrassment of the pretender to the Presidency's twitterpations, America is teetering on the brink of calamity spawned by an ineffectual majority party. Congress has until December to pass a tax reform bill that will give Wall Street enough of a lift to overcome the downdraft of Fed tightening. A promise of relief in next year's tax provisions could provide the positive sentiment to keep us airborne long enough to provide a not-so-hard landing. The GOP, however, shows itself to be so aggrieved over its supposed leader that passing major legislation is unlikely, if only for their perverse pleasure in turning popular opinion further against the cheat executive. leading to his eventual impeachment.

Trumpeting a call to arms by his basest base, the disappointed dictator could then incite uprisings by Trumpists across the country, making articles of impeachment too parlous at this point (Rep. Al Green's (D - Tex.) righteous bid notwithstanding). Yet, …

Czar Gazing

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Democracy, as a way to govern nation-states, is on the decline. With the help of Russia, politically four centuries behind the West, the U.S. could be headed for czarist rule. The Russian word czar comes from "caesar" and was the title first assumed by Ivan the Awesome (or the more popular pejorative, "the Terrible").

If our political regression stays in step with our fall back through the growth of civilization to agrarianism, we could see an autocrat in power in a decade or so. Czar Barron has a certain ring to it.
Czar Donald sounds cartoonish, but since we don't execute traitors anymore, Junior may be first in line to inherit the throne after the patriarch croaks. He might want to change that to "The Don" to give it more of a fear factor and to divert attention from the history of his ascent at the behest of Russian propagandists. Oh, wait... the Don is a Russian river.

Aww. Who cares what people think? Junior might be found guilty of conspiring …

Pulling Threads

Reading Joe Scarborough's opinion column today about Blowhard's base sticking through thick and thin, and then finding an analysis of personalist rule that well describes how this is becoming more commonplace in authoritarian states, I went back through the lead-in summaries on Amy Siskind's weekly authoritarianism tracker to tease out the threads that have emerged as themes under our dictator-in-the-making.
This consolidated chronology, in which themes are identified by color, is a value add to the presentation on Medium which doesn't tell you much until you click on a given week. If you start at the bottom of this post, you can track the train wreck from inauguration day to this month. Go to Amy's Medium page to drill down into the gory details, or Aaron Dietz' tableau tool, if you have the geek chops for it. I hope you find my exercise in curation to be enlightening.

October 21, 2017
Investigations of Russian interference quietly progressed on several fronts…

America's Approaching Storm

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Most people think that fascism is a political concept that emerged in 20th century Europe, but the first use of that label in a political context appeared five centuries ago when Gustavus Eriksson (popularly known as Vasa, from the Latin fascis, meaning "bundle") unified Swedish rebel mobs to overthrow their Danish colonial overlords.  The image evoked is that of a bundle of straight sticks held tightly together, thereby forming an unbreakable pole.

Today's use of the word "fascist" carries the same meaning, modernized by recent historical occurrence under Mussolini and his ilk. Fascism places unity above everything else, including individual liberty. It demands a mindset of ruthless efficiency, leading to acts of inhumane expediency. It is extremely undemocratic, i.e. tending to totalitarianism, relying on conformity at all levels of society. The most obvious example of a fascist government today is North Korea.

North Korea's fascism can be understood by t…

The Long War Ahead

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Old Blowhard may say he doesn't subscribe to theories of climate change, but he sure is prepping like a true believer. Following the widespread disaster caused by Hurricane Harvey, his most substantive response was to re-establish the 1033 Program that allows local law enforcement access to excess military equipment. Four million internally displaced, dripping, and dispossessed persons must look pretty scary to a man who only loves a crowd when they are cheering for him. Unfortunately for him, the extra military gear probably won't be on hand in time for other states to guard the elites in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.


How unwittingly we drift into totalitarianism. Instead of taking a more humane counterinsurgency approach, our military-industrial complex overproduced lethal weapons and profuse national security apparati in a panicked reaction against Islamic terrorism. We are left with so many military "goods" that we can't help but put them to some use - eve…

How Budgets Get Balanced in a Crisis

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Civil asset forfeiture is nothing new (we've had it in some form since the colonial days), but it is now more likely with Jeff Sessions in charge of Justice. The colonials had the practice handed down to them from the royals of England, with the starkest example being the replenishment of Henry VIII's coffers from church assets by Thomas Cromwell beginning in 1536. After collecting a litany of accusations through "visitors" sent to look into the foibles of England's 600 monasteries and 130 nunneries, Cromwell brought his "Black Book" before a kangaroo Parliament, which agreed to shut down these politically wayward establishments and turn their assets over to the crown. The precedent made it easier for the guilds to be similarly plundered less than a decade later.

"Civil asset forfeiture" is the euphemistic description of the government seizing personal property, often before guilt can be determined by trial. There have been cases where police …

Five Centuries Ago: Henry VIII. Today: Donald the Deplorable.

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The Maryland Renaissance Festival begins this month and, if you think a 500 year reset is too far from present reality, then you haven't kept up on your English history. While reading through Will Durant's agonizing rendition of how the West was spun, The Story of Civilization: The Reformation, the reign of Henry VIII of England takes the pathos prize, so far. The calamitous king had so much in common with America's current head of state that the parallels kept popping into my consciousness while mourning over every page. The Renaissance Festival may have had no intention of shining a light on our current political fiasco when it selected a storyline that brings the old ogre and his court back in the flesh, but let's hope the audience doesn't miss the irony.

Historians recognized the pattern much earlier than I, and published those observations in Newsweek, Foreign Policy, and The Economist, as well as this e-zine and another, Pajiba. In case you missed those, let …

A Biochar Breakout Opportunity

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Relatively speaking, Scott Pruitt supports efforts to clean up toxic waste in our land. He only wants to cut the superfund budget by $330 million, which is a 30% cut, as opposed to the 34% cut for the EPA overall. To show even more support, he wants to be briefed regularly on the 10 worst superfund sites. The other 1,300 sites are not going to receive as much attention. At the same time, under Pruitt's budget proposal, the states will have 45% less federal grant money to rely on for some of their clean-up efforts.

Since money is tight for these projects, the EPA and PRP's (Potentially Responsible Parties, but let's just call them "perps") should be happy to know that there is a lower cost method available to remediate heavy metal contamination in soils. Heavy metals are elements of high density (> 5 g/cc) and include Cd, Cu, Hg, Ni, Pb, and Zn. These metals are often left in the soil after manufacturing, mining, and disposal operations have moved on and can al…

The Mid-Atlantic's Coming Green Revolution

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In establishing the Healthy Soils Program, Maryland has begun to officially view soil in terms of biological populations, organic content, structure and water-holding capacity, and carbon sequestration. Everybody wants healthy soil, but for the past 70 years, conventional agriculturalists have been satisfied merely with healthy crops. Food for those crops has been supplied by chemicals known to help them grow. The soil fell into neglect, and in the process, we lost a lot of carbon from the soil and released a lot of nitrous oxide through chemical production. The Healthy Soils Program, then, is a way to recover from this unforeseen consequence of the Green Revolution by reducing the severity of our recent interventions in soil fertility.

In promoting healthy soils, Dr. Sara Via brings out a few principles farmers and gardeners should follow. I have annotated them here with my comments for gardeners:

Rotate crops - some crops, e.g. tomatoes, should be rotated over 3 or more yearsLimit so…

First Things First

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Last night, I was fortunate to hear Dr. Sara Via, a University of Maryland biologist, give her talk on "Ecology of the Soil" to my county's Master Gardeners. She recommended a 2016 paper from Nature entitled Climate-Smart Soils. One of the gems in this paper is the decision tree it offers for the coolest things to do with agricultural land, depending on its nature and condition. It says that marginal lands should be planted in perennials, and histosols (soils containing high organic matter, i.e. former bogs) should be restored to wetlands. Aside from those cases, the paper proffers a hierarchy of various measures that can be taken to improve soil health, such as cover cropping and no-till. The final measure in the hierarchy - adding soil amendments, such as biochar - is not based on the soil condition, but on the availability of the amendment - the more, the merrier (though 2" of compost per year may be a good upper bound).

This decision tree clarifies matters great…

Carbon Nation

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It is fortunate that Project Drawdown left CO2 capture and storage (CCS) out of their solution set, because the IPCC left us with a mixed bag by including it as a key element among their recommended approaches*. Environmentally-minded organizations such as the Post-Carbon Institute (PCI) are all too happy to explain that CCS doesn't pencil out when you consider such fixed costs as a network of pipelines in the U.S. equal to that of the entire oil industry. As implied by their name, however, the Post-Carbon Institute discounts the value of all of the extra tight oil that might be recovered and burned by enhanced oil recovery using all the captured CO2. Considering how polluting coal and other industrial combustion processes can be, it makes sense if you can exchange the CO2 output for a more clean-burning petroleum product, but the extra pipelines and other CCS components required really does cause it to look like CCS would be a net economic loss (until oil prices rise). The fact t…

Drawing Down - 3rd World Style

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If  you are the independent type, third world solutions, otherwise known as appropriate technology, can be pretty great. The Drawdown project sees the biggest benefit of small methane generating anaerobic digesters in parts of the world where wood fired cookstoves are commonplace. Distributed digesters in the Drawdown model are fed livestock manure exclusively. Paul Hawkins' group estimates that 36.5% of manure in Asia is currently being run through small digesters and that we can bring that percentage up to 52.6% for all regions of the world where agriculture is dominated by small farms. For the rest of the world, they estimate much greater savings through the use of industrial sized anaerobic digesters. Yet, in marketing their product to the first world, HomeBiogas claims, even without displacing a cookstove, that their food scrap fed digester will save as much GHG emissions as if you stopped driving a car. In my case, it would also save on electricity to run cooking appliances …

Loosening the Grip of the Grid

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One of the distinctions made by zero waste advocates is that incineration of waste to reduce landfill use exacerbates pollution. Waste industry apologists credit Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's decision to withdraw limits on landfill expansion as an effort to avoid shifting the burden to incinerators.

That might be a defensible position if Maryland's landfill gas emissions were well controlled and not the highest human-caused source of methane in the state. Fortunately, the U.S. Appeals Court rode to the rescue in their recent ruling against the EPA's delay tactics on oil and gas well methane emissions. Since the EPA has also postponed the implementation of new landfill gas emissions requirements, expect that the court will also find that decision to be unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious. More landfills will then be required to incorporate gas collection and control systems. This should serve to pressure states to become more waste conscious.

Waste consciousness shoul…

Drawdown - Guidance for Policymakers

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In The Humanure Handbook, Joseph Jenkins assails our habit of wasting things.
We have kitchen “waste,” garden “waste,” agricultural “waste,” human “waste,” municipal “waste,” “biowaste,” and on and on. Yet, our long-term survival requires us to learn to live in harmony with our host planet. This also requires that we understand natural cycles and incorporate them into our day to day lives. In essence, this means that we humans must attempt to eliminate waste altogether.  In Don DeLillo's novel, Underworld, the waste underlying modern life resurfaces throughout the tale. The advocates at eco-cycle Solutions are all about solving the waste problem. They and the folks at Trash-Free Maryland were surely disappointed when Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced an end to Maryland's Plan to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Nearly All Waste Generated in Maryland by 2040.

Stepping away from waste reduction is a mistake. We can benefit both economically and environmentally by improving indust…

Save up to $100K through this Eco-lifestyle Adjustment

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Slums constitute the living arrangement for one-fourth of today's world population. In the least developed countries, those living in slums exceed three-fourths of the population. Any urban area can descend quickly into slumdom when water and sewerage stop functioning. This can happen in any urban environment where the electric supply is lost for a week or where general mayhem prevails. Take Yemen, for instance. Facing a crisis of war, famine, and social collapse, 14 million people there lack access to safe drinking water or sanitation. The conditions are ripe for outbreaks of disease, which is currently appearing in the form of the most massive cholera epidemic this century
Cholera is spread by ingestion of Vibrio cholerae, which lives in the water where infected people have released sewage. If not quickly and properly treated, it can cause death in 50 to 60% of those infected. Currently, the number of cases in Yemen is 200,000 carriers of the bacteria. In the 2008 - 2009 Zimba…