Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Word to Describe Donald Trump After Last Night's Debate

Asked to describe Trump in one word or phrase, the responses were: “horrid,” “chaotic,” “unpolished,” “crackhead,” “ehh,” “puzzling,” “un-American,” “unhinged,” “an ass, but a confident ass,” “classic Trump,” “forceful,” “unhinged,” “bully,” “arrogant,” arrogant,” “typical.”

What's more disgusting is all the people of this country that are OK with this because they are just like him. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

There Is No Planet B

A while back I was playing an online game and the guy I was with started talking about colonizing Mars. He thought the Earth was done, with all the pollution, climate change and social discord, and that humanity had to start over on another planet just to survive. He thought independent, go-it-alone entrepreneur types would be the salvation of mankind. In other words, he had drunk the Elon Musk Koolaid.

He was wrong on every level.

First, the facts. Even in the worst possible climate scenario we've got, Earth is far more hospitable than the moon, freestanding space colonies, Mars or Venus. 

Venus is right out because it's suffering from a runaway greenhouse effect: the atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide with a dash of sulfuric acid. The surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead. The air pressure is 90 atmospheres, equivalent to being half a mile below the ocean. You might be able to live in the clouds of Venus (making a floating habitat would be relatively easy because of the dense atmosphere), but then access to raw materials would be difficult.

The moon has no atmosphere and no magnetic field, which means it is constantly bombarded by cosmic radiation and high-energy particles from solar flares. Radiation exposure is 200 times what it is on Earth. The temperature varies from 280 degrees below zero to 260 degrees Fahrenheit. Apollo astronauts traveling to the moon were only gone about a week, so they suffered only minimal damage. But long-term residents would have to either build electrostatic shields (which need a lot of power), or live underground (which is problematic because lunar soil also emits radiation, like some building materials on earth). Water would be a problem, though there might be some under the surface at the poles. And of course you have to make your own air. It's not clear what the implications of lower gravity would be on human health and childhood growth.

Freestanding space colonies, like the O'Neill cylinders, are a neat idea, but they are fixed size and can't be totally self-sufficient. They require constant maintenance, import of raw materials and ongoing trade with Earth and other colonies for supplies and exchange of genetic material.

Mars has a thin atmosphere of carbon dioxide (.006 of Earth's atmospheric pressure) and no magnetic field, making it only slightly better than the moon in terms of radiation exposure. The average temperature is -81. However, it can get up to 70 degrees at noon in the summer, but it gets to -200 at the poles.

There was probably water on the Martian surface billions of years ago, and there might be some left below the surface over much of the planet, and there's water ice at the poles. In the winters about a quarter of the atmosphere freezes out at the poles, forming a crust of dry ice that sublimates in the spring.

Clearly Mars is the most Earth-like planet and the best candidate for human habitation. But people would probably still have to live underground, surrounding themselves with radiation shields of one sort or another. Surface excursions would have to be severely limited to reduce radiation exposure to prevent an epidemic of cancer and rampant genetic mutations. Food production would always be a struggle with the lower solar radiation (less than half of what Earth gets).

But the biggest challenge wouldn't be the harsh environment: it would be the people. The kind of people who are attracted to such a barren frontier -- the fiercely independent, go-it-alone, rule-breaking entrepreneur types -- are the worst kind of people to make a home on Mars.

On Mars everyone has to follow all the rules, all the time. In a place where punching a hole in the wall will kill everyone in the room, there's no place for anger or pettiness. One or two people could sabotage a Martian settlement's food, water or air supply, killing everyone.

On Mars there would be no room for rebels and malcontents. Every marriage and birth would have to be approved by the government because resources would have to be so tightly controlled. Because a Martian colony would be a completely closed system, every aspect of your life would be dictated: how much power you use, where you live, how much space you get, what you eat, what you drink, what you excrete, even what you breathe. It would be like living on a nuclear submarine your whole life.

There would essentially be no freedom. Mars would not be a libertarian utopia: it would be a communist dictatorship. The survival of the group would override every other consideration.

The thing is, even if Earth suffers the ultimate disaster scenario -- worst-case climate change, massive sea level rise, global thermonuclear war -- Earth will still be more hospitable than Mars. People survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Chernobyl. People survived multiple ice ages. That's because no matter how bad it got on Earth, there has been air, water and food in the form of plants and animals, even in places as desolate as Antarctica.

None of that is true for Mars.

There's no shortage of failed attempts at colonization here on Earth. The Vikings made two settlements in Greenland, but abandoned both. The Vikings' North American colony in Vinland failed. The first Roanoke colony, led by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585, failed and everyone returned to England. The second Roanoke colony just disappeared, leaving the enigmatic word "Croatoan" carved on a fence post. And on and on.

Given the number of robotic missions to Mars that have failed (two-thirds), it's clear that crewed expeditions to Mars will result in numerous failures and numerous deaths, just as our attempts to reach the north and south poles did. We lost 14 astronauts in the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters, and three astronauts in the Apollo 1 launch pad fire. People will die in our attempts to reach Mars. 

That's not to say we shouldn't go to Mars, we most definitely should. The risk of death is just the reality of exploration of any new territory. Just look at how many people die climbing Mount Everest. But for the foreseeable future Mars will be like an Antarctic research post. Not a place to raise a family.

Maybe, someday, thousands of years in the future, we could terraform Mars, creating a biosphere, and humans could survive on the surface without artificial aids. But not in time for us to write off planet Earth. A self-sustaining Martian colony is basically impossible for centuries: the level of technology required for basic survival mandates the huge industrial base of the Earth. 

It basically comes down this: there is zero room for error on Mars. People and technology are simply not reliable enough for Mars to be the sole repository for mankind. And even if we do manage to terraform Mars, the solar wind would eventually blow the atmosphere away, like it did billions of years ago.

So the upshot is: there is no Planet B. There is only Earth. 

Last year an Australian group published a study that said civilization will collapse by 2050 if we don't stop mucking with the climate. That's just 30 years from now. It was immediately pooh-poohed by conservatives. But as we've seen, last year Australia was burning out of control, and this year the West Coast is burning out of control and the Gulf Coast is getting hammered by hurricanes once or twice a month. Miami is sinking into the sea. This is not sustainable. And it's only getting worse.

Obviously we should stop screwing up the climate right now. Because if we don't, there's going to be a huge exodus from the South to the North and from the coasts to inland areas, as oceans rise and swallow cities like New Orleans and Miami and New York, and entire states and countries are destroyed by fires and droughts and hurricane after hurricane. If we don't stop fouling our nest, competition for breathable air, arable land and potable water will result in endless wars, which will eventually go nuclear. 

Yeah, some small part of humanity will survive the cataclysm, like we survived the ice ages. But that means the industrial base will be destroyed, rendering all our cars and guns and air conditioners and furnaces useless, and the seven or eight billion people who depend on that industrial base are going to die, including most of the United States.

Who will survive? Ironically, those people who are used to living in squalid conditions, who eke out a subsistence living in those "shithole" countries Donald Trump loves to hate. 

In other words, the meek shall inherit the earth.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

How Many Trump Supporters Will Die on the Altar of Trump's Vanity?

Donald Trump's victims keep piling up since the coronavirus outbreak. Now there have been 6 million American COVID-19 cases and 200,000 deaths, a death rate much higher than other comparable countries. Many of these infections and deaths are directly attributable to Trump supporters doing what he told them to.

There was the Arizona guy who died from taking chloroquine phosphate after Trump gushed about hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure (it isn't).

Then there was Herman Cain, who died not long after attending Trump rally in Oklahoma.

Now a pro-Trump anti-mask pastor is in the ICU after trying to pray away the virus:

When coronavirus cases began increasing in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in late July, Pastor Paul Van Noy prayed with his congregation that the city council would not pass a mask mandate.

“I don’t want to be told I have to wear a mask,” he said at the lectern. “We’re adults and we don’t need the government to tell us what to do.”

A little over a month later, he and his wife contracted the virus and he has landed in the hospital’s intensive care unit struggling to breathe, he said in a statement this week.

“I haven’t taken this Covid seriously enough,” his wife, Brenda, said on Facebook Sept. 4, shortly after her husband was admitted to the ICU.

Trump has been leading the country in opposition to mask mandates, even as the head of the CDC says that masks are better at preventing the spread of COVID-19 than a vaccine will be.

Then we found out that Trump admitted to Bob Woodward that he has been lying about the severity of the pandemic this whole time. What's amazing is how easily Trump admits to Woodward that he lied. This guy is an idiot.

Trump has politicized vaccine development, trying to force drug companies to get a vaccine out much sooner than is safe or feasible.

The crazy thing is, face masks should not be at all controversial. Look at this clip from the Flintstones, aired in 1966, in which wearing a face mask is mentioned in a simple, off-handed manner:

People wore face masks during the 1918 flu pandemic, and it was no big deal. Many western states had mask mandates.

The problem is that Republicans have decided that they must oppose absolutely everything that Democrats endorse, no matter how reasonable the Democrats' proposals are, from climate change, to the Affordable Care Act (which is now completely obviously a necessity, what with all the people who have lost jobs -- and their health care -- due to the pandemic), to keeping schools closed until the virus is under control, to wearing face masks indoors.

Thousands of people are getting violently ill, racking up huge hospital bills, suffering life-long physical disabilities, and dying, all because Trump doesn't want people in masks reminding everyone what an abysmal job he has done as president.

Infection rates are down in blue states and skyrocketing in red states. In the end how many Trump supporters die on the altar of Trump's vanity?

Friday, September 18, 2020

Will Climate Change Kill the Republican Party?

When Donald Trump went to California amid one of the worst fire seasons in history, he continued to deny the totally obvious: man-made climate change is causing havoc across the globe.

In the American West drought and unprecedented heat have caused the entire west coast to burn, from California to Washington state. Half a million people were evacuated from their homes in Oregon, where it's usually quite wet. Dozens of people have died since August, and smoke from the fires spread across the entire northern half of the United States, dimming the sun in Minnesota, New York and Washington, DC.

The Atlantic hurricane season, barely half hover, is in full force. Louisiana has already been hammered by two hurricanes that dumped several feet of rain. Almost a million people lost power in Hurricane Laura,  and less than a month later Hurricane Sally dumped more rain and hundreds of thousands of people lost power in Florida and Mississippi.

Five hurricanes are spinning up in the Atlantic, all at once, only the second time this has ever happened. Cyclone Ianos is hitting Greece today, something which almost never happens.

Why are there so many hurricanes and cyclones? Climate change has heated the oceans up, and the hotter the water gets, the more hurricanes form. It's just physics.

A 42-square mile chunk of the Greenland ice cap just broke off into the ocean, after a record year of melting in 2019. Arctic sea ice extent dropped precipitously in the last 40 years, and the pace of decline in 2020 is the fastest ever. This year is the second lowest on record (2012 holds the record).

The melting of the Greenland ice cap is a major contributor to sea level rise, which is causing constant flooding throughout Florida and other coastal states, and making storm surge during hurricanes and even normal storms expensive disasters, eroding beaches and destroying property values.

All of this is happening, and yet Trump and his cronies still pretend nothing is wrong. 

Even if you believe that some natural process caused climate change, you cannot deny that by continuing to pump carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, and by cutting down forests for farming and logging, we are making it that much worse. If you're standing on a tree limb and you hear it cracking, you don't jump up and down on it.

We are simply making the world uninhabitable. Temperatures in Death Valley reached 130 degrees in August, and similarly high temperatures have been recorded in Kuwait and Pakistan. How long can people continue living in these places?

People in Louisiana are getting hammered by hurricanes about once a month during the season. How long before insurance companies say enough is enough, and refuse to cover homes along the Gulf Coast?

The exodus from California is already starting, with people heading for other states across the west, including Utah, Idaho and Texas. 

This may be for the best. In many states Republicans have gerrymandered congressional districts to take an outsized majority of seats, even though they receive a minority or slight majority of the vote total. An influx of a relatively small number of moderate voters to the right districts could swing currently Republican states into the Democratic column.

Human-caused climate change is driving thousands of species to extinction. If there is such a thing as karma, Republican politicians will be its next victims.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

A Net-Zero Energy House Case Study

Last year we built a house. It was designed to be "net-zero" energy home -- that is, to produce as much energy as it uses.

To do that the builder put in a lot of insulation: about 14 inches of blown-in insulation in the attic, two inches of foam between the studs and the sheathing, and then three inches of closed-cell spray-foam insulation on the inside of the exterior walls to get a good air-tight seal. To make it even more air-tight they used acoustical sealant on all the seams between the studs on the exterior walls.

We have all electrical appliances, including an induction stove top. I always thought gas was the way to cook, but induction really heats things up much faster -- water starts boiling in a minute or two. Induction works with most steel and iron pots and pans, using an intense magnetic field to excite the ferrous molecules in the metal. The cooking surface only heats up because a hot pot is sitting on it.

For heating and cooling we have a heat pump that provides cooling in the summer and heating in the winter, down to 25 degrees. When it gets colder than 25 a small natural gas furnace kicks in.

To produce energy we installed 39 320-watt solar panels on the south-facing roof, for a total of 12kW capacity (the inverter, which converts the DC from the panels to AC for the house and grid, limits output to 10KWh on the sunniest days). In the 14 months since the panels were installed we've generated 17.8 megawatt-hours of electricity.

The electricity that we generate first goes to power our house, to run the heat pump, refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, etc. For that reason we try to do the laundry when the sun is shining. Any power we don't use goes into the grid, and the power company pays us 7 cents a kilowatt-hour for all the power we generate, even if we use it.

For the period from Sep. 1, 2019 to Sep. 1, 2020, we made about $33. And that's including the hookup fees that we pay the gas company for the six months out of the year when we don't use any gas at all.

Those numbers also include the power we use to recharge my wife's plug-in hybrid car. It's a Kia Niro with a 26-mile battery range (and a 500-mile gas range). I scoffed at the battery range at first, but it turns out that the vast majority of the driving she does fits right in that range. She hasn't bought gas since February. True, we drive a lot less than normal with the pandemic, but the tank is still almost full.

The graph below shows the output of our system month-by-month. December and January were, as anticipated, the worst months: the days were short, it was cloudy much of the time, and it snowed several times, covering the panels. But we generated more than a megawatt-hour of electricity in nine out of twelve months, and almost 2 MWh in June and July.

We had expected snow to be more of a problem than it turned out to be. Depending on how much we got, the snow would start melting on the top panels, and then start sliding off. Within a couple of days the panels would be clear again.

We designed the house specifically for solar -- we have gables on the east and west ends to provide a long south-facing surface for the panels. The house is sited toward the north end of the lot to minimize shading by the trees on the lot to the south. We selected a roof "pitch" (the angle of the roof) to somewhat favor summer power production, since winter days are so short and cloudy. We also placed the garage on the south-east corner to "hide" the panels. If you drove by our house you'd never see them.

So, how much money does rooftop solar save? We generated 17.8 MWh, for which the power company paid us about $1,200. We generated about as much as we used, and the power company charges between 10 and 12 cents a kilowatt hour depending on the season, so we didn't have to pay the power company for almost $2,000 of electricity. The expected lifetime of the panels is 20-25 years, so we should recoup the cost of hardware and installation in a few years and after that the power is essentially free.

Our house is in Minnesota, at 45 degrees latitude, where it can get fairly cold in the winter. Homes in southern states, where it's warmer and they have longer, sunnier winter days, could get by with just a heat pump and could produce more energy than they use. 

Furthermore, if every Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Amazon store or warehouse installed solar panels on the big flat roofs of their buildings, these companies could produce more power than they use.

The criticism of solar power is that there's nowhere to store that excess electricity: batteries are expensive, bulky and immobile. But there's something else to do with excess electricity: turn it into hydrogen through the electrolysis of water.

Other countries (including Australia and Germany) are doing exactly this. Hydrogen is used in many industrial processes, but it can also be used as fuel for cars and electricity production with fuel cells.

Hydrogen-based fuel cell cars (like the Toyota Mirai) have had limited success because there aren't a lot of hydrogen filling stations. Also, most hydrogen these days is produced from natural gas, which sort of defeats the purpose.

But when we start getting a lot of energy production from renewables like solar and wind, we'll be able to store the power we get on sunny and windy days as hydrogen, and then use it either as fuel for cars or to generate power at night with fuel cell power plants like this one in South Korea.

Coal-fired power plants are nineteenth dinosaurs on their last legs. Coal companies are going bankrupt left and right and hundreds of coal plants have gone offline in the last decade because they are simply less efficient and more costly that renewables like wind and solar, as well as natural gas turbines. 

The entire process of power production from coal is filthy and dangerous, from mining it (where miners die in frequent accidents and get black lung disease), to burning it for power (when it releases particulates, sulfur dioxide and mercury, causing lung disease and poisoning the air and water, and CO2, which causes climate change), to the toxic waste left behind (coal ash, which is kept in big holding ponds that frequently overflow, poisoning ground water, streams and rivers, killing fish and sickening people).

Even if you don't think climate change is happening, or that global warming is somehow "natural," or that air pollution isn't a problem, it's clear that renewables are now simply cheaper than coal, and are getting cheaper every day. It also localizes power production, eliminating the need to ship megatons of coal and oil across the country (avoiding the attendant spills and fires), or build expensive and leak-prone cross-continent pipelines. Combined with hydrogen storage, you just can't beat renewables, especially as more efficient photovoltaic, electrolysis and fuel cell technologies become available.

The electrical grid does need to be upgraded and hardened to facilitate the transfer of power from areas that produce it to the areas that need it. But we've needed that for a long time in any case.

In 2020 California started requiring all new construction to have solar panels where it makes sense (the right sized roof and sun exposure). All states, especially sunny southern states, should have similar mandates, along with subsidies and tax breaks to prevent housing prices from spiking.

Even some oil companies are seeing the light. BP is actively involved with several hydrogen projects, including this one in Australia.

Renewables aren't just the right thing to do: they're now cheaper and more efficient.

Monday, September 07, 2020

The Acute Dementia of A Right Wing Blogger

It's been interesting to watch Kevin Baker over at his blog The Smallest Minority slowly lose his mind as realizes what's coming this fall. Now, it's just sad

Kevin and followers, did it ever occur to you guys that Trump is going to lose because he's done a horrible job? That having one conviction (trolling liberals) doesn't translate into leading a country? You guys had a shot with your (ahem) ideological vision and this was the result. 

Crashed Economy. Racial strife. Six-figure death county from a virus that was...what?...a liberal plot?

Perhaps you should just own it instead of massively denying reality. And maybe next time don't pick a bankrupt reality show host who owes billions to a totalitarian foreign government. 

Our country is going through a massive change and younger voters are going to define what that means. There are 120 million voters between the ages of 18 and 40. They are the most educated generation in the history of the planet which means they recognize reality. It's no wonder that you continually rail against our nation's education system because it categorically refuses the insanity you preach on a daily basis. And here's the best part...

They are all pissed off at your craziness and are going to show you the consequences of your insane bullshit on November 3rd. There won't be any cheating or anything like that. I get that the cognitive dissonance you are experiencing won't allow you to accept this rejection but it's coming nonetheless. And just like Festinger's UFO cult, you will continue to mouth foam away, spewing sheer and utter nonsense. 

Voters don't accept your ideas because they suck. They don't work. They are failures. They are destroying our country. 

Is that clear enough for you? 

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Tuesday, September 01, 2020