Wednesday, February 18, 2015


This really is a funny world we live in.  Without evening looking for news on the hidden cost / dangers of fossil fuels (outside of the long term climate change and environmental risks) I casually (one on TV, one on the radio) came across two news stories showing the extreme risks that exists in an economy and transportation system based on fossil fuels.

First, in West Virginia a train derailed earlier this week and caused 20 tanker cars to catch fire.  It has been burning for over 24 hours, billowing thick black smoke and soot into the nearby community.  Oh, and it derailed into a river, so there is also serious risk of water contamination based upon the success of pending clean up measures.  A Reuters update on this news story is at this link here, including a video of the massive fire.

Second, just today at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, CA, an explosion visibly ripped apart structures and sent ash and debris into the nearby community.  It injured upwards of four workers and shut down the plant for at least the day, and likely much longer.  A NBC Los Angeles story is at this link if you care to take a look.

Does it seem at least a little funny to anyone else that we so casually put up with these types of events when renewable energy is, even today, so available to get us out of the fossil fuel based transportation and energy paradigm?  Are we so desensitized to these environmentally and socially awful accidents that these event alone are not enough to push us in a mad rush towards a renewable generation + storage + electric vehicle future?  I don't know about you, but I personally get a sick feeling in my gut every time I see thick black smoke pouring from yet another fossil fuel based disaster.

Whatever your feelings, just know that today you do have choices as a consumer of transportation products and energy, and these choices will only get better for you, the consumer, as time goes on.  Hopefully we can move towards a system where these types of accidents are just stories from the past, like hearing stories of westward settlers decimating the American buffalo population through over hunting.

Oh, one last piece of news.  There were no reported renewable energy explosions this week.  This leaves the all time count for renewable energy explosions at zero.  Please check in next week for an update on the count.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Funnies break

A cartoon by Tom Toro

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Does nature need a price tag??

In Season 13, Episode 3 of the NPR radio show RadioLab, there was a segment titled, "How Do You Put a Price Tag on Nature?"  The segment was about a group of researchers in 1997 who attempted to place a value on the natural processes of the world.  Their answer.... $142 trillion.  Just for reference, the 2013 total World GDP was $75 trillion.  Put another way, all of the economic effort of all of humanity on the planet produces barely 1/2 the value of all natural process (back in 1997 that is.  It has undoubtedly gone up since then).

When published, this research caused more controversy over the fact that it was placing economic value on what many believe to be priceless, the raw beauty, brutality and truth of nature, than any values that were actually assigned to natural processes.  But another way to think about this is to use such economic analysis as a starting point for making real progress towards actual carbon policy.  Let me use a story to illustrate my point.

Recently in discussing the topic of emissions with a friend, I mentioned how I understand the need of modern society and the modern economy to use fossil fuels.  I think most pragmatic environmentalists understand that.  However, what I don't understand is why a power company using coal, who produces carbon emissions known to contribute to global climate change, is "charged" the same amount as the emissions from a solar panel.  That amount is $0, and that amount seems very unfair, given the KNOWN environmental impact of emissions.  Therefore, my beef was not with the concept of fossil fuels, it was with the practice of "free emissions" into a global economy where it is a fact that emissions cause problems which cost money (through pollution, climate change, ect).

Therefore, I said, the solution is easy, producers of carbon emissions need to pay a tax for the privileged of polluting.  My friend's response was simple.  Who decides the amount of this tax?

This is a good question, which requires first that the topic of emissions be taken seriously (which government (at least Federal Government) is currently unwilling to do) and second that a debate start around the cost of carbon.  While placing a value on natural processes (such as extraction of carbon from the atmosphere!) can seem uneasy, it bares exploration to see if it can bridge a gap between two areas currently very far apart, the natural world and the human economic engine.  These worlds have to come closer together to ever make real meaningful progress on emissions control from a policy perspective, which will definitely be necessary in a world looking to do some serious clean up over the next 50 - 100 years.