Perversity of Renewable Power

For centuries, western civilization has worked to lessen the dependency on the weather for conducting our daily manufactured lives. That given, it does seem interesting that the current populist push for ‘renewables’ is a move to reverse that long avoided position. Although I might add that all forms of energy are actually renewable — just that the timescales for coal or uranium might be a tad long for the typical investor mindset.

Solar panels both photovoltaic and thermal require sunshine to harvest energy. A long spate of cloudy weather (this past winter comes to mind) significantly compromises their output. Not to worry though — here in Ontario there are immense solar panel arrays scattered about the rural landscape — after all, what do we need farmland for? Everything we need can be flown in from China, Chile or Mexico. Been noticing that last winter no one could be bothered to clear the snow from these things — suspect the Province was paying them for the power they might have generated, so why waste money on maintenance?

Wind farms are even more interesting — the huge monsters now in fashion need just enough — not too much and not too little. So areas that have any wind at all, away from the urban areas, are being carpeted with wind farms — mostly over the objections of the folks who live there. Freezing rain shuts them down. No way to defrost things — need to wait for the sun. Too much wind — you hope the automagic controls stop them. Watching video of overspeed turbines tearing themselves apart is pretty entertaining. But a broken blade can get lobbed a kilometer or more — and the Ontario setback is 550 meters. Don’t want one through my living room window… And we won’t mention that when the original research was done it was observed that little of the local winds blew during the same timeframes as the power was needed. Terawatt batteries? Dream on.

What we have seen over the last few years is that here in Eastern Ontario we are getting more days of cloud [I am an amateur astronomer] and wind levels overall are dropping in the Great Lakes area. And when it does blow it can be more extreme. And we will ignore for the moment the side effects of the technology itself — solar farms absorb heat differently than fields. And would not evaporate moisture in the same way as plants. Similarly, wind turbines work by taking energy from the low level air movement — and affect atmospheric mixing and increase low level turbulence. And as they turn the vibration shakes the ground.. big critters seem to ignore it but one wonders about worms?

So here we have it… re-introducing technology driven by weather as a means to ‘fight’ changes in the weather. One might think it was a big bet that conditions won’t change. And the apparent direction of the change we see moves away from the current conditions that support these things. Glad everybody is eager to make a quick buck from this stuff. But are we not being a bit over eager? Makes my head hurt…

Climate Change — the New Religion

I have been watching with some dismay the comments on Facebook and other places about the New York Times hiring Bret Stephens as a columnist. Ascribed to being an extreme climate change denier, parallels have been drawn with Holocaust deniers and suggestions made that the Times should be boycotted until they release him.

Interesting… he is accused of heresy for doubting the predictions of hard green religion and the demands for making specific changes in power generation and other things to save the planet. The science is fine but maybe we should not be so confident about our models and think about this a bit more. Guess this is what passes for non-belief in these hyper-partisan days. Infant damnation or atheism with no middle ground.

I will confess to similar leanings that have grown with the shrillness of the critics. I justify my thoughts with a comparison to political and economic forecasting — and the economic behavior of human society with its billions of interacting parts is quite simple compared with the climate.

Politicians of all stripes routinely tout specific programs to restore prosperity and end various flavors of unfairness. And their allies in business argue for policies to favor their industries with a heavy hand for similar reasons. Mostly these fail, often spectacularly. Trickle down, a favorite of the current White House occupant, has been proffered a number of times — cut taxes on the rich, the job creators and prosperity will flow down over everyone. So far not so much it seems — the latest was Kansas, where they had to dip into emergency funds to keep the state afloat. But the results are ignored… the real benefits achieved, if any, go to a more restricted group. So why do we believe them when the evidence is right in our faces?

So here in Ontario we have a Green Energy Act that removes planning control from local governments and substitutes the will of a highly politicized government power system. Rural areas are being covered with enormous wind farms against the will of most of the residents and in violation of various treaties and so forth. And harm… well, if the research was not done in Ontario it just doesn’t apply. And when locals fight it is against the government and the ‘renewables’ industry. And with the project across the street, the developer admitted that even though the costs are more than double any other project it is so profitable they have to do it. Curious… Ontario has a huge surplus of wind power being sold at a loss to surrounding areas, and soaring power costs — where is the money going?

Similarly, on a planetary scale, there is urgency in saving the planet by deploying more and more solar panels, wind farms and so forth. And making other changes to decarbonize the economy by industrial taxes and mandating expensive technology. But transportation, which accounts for almost 40% of greenhouse gasses in Ontario, continues to be the realm of cars, trucks and airplanes. Trains, which produce a tiny amount of GHG per passenger mile in comparison, continue to be under attack. And regional bus service has been shut down in a number of places. So if you don’t drive and cannot afford to fly you are going no place. And logging continues everywhere — although in North America there is replanting, unlike places where the forests are cut for agriculture, beef or palm oil.

The science is clear — hard to argue with years of rising temperatures, rising sea levels and melting ice. But some do… Where it gets trickier is in the efficacy of the models — and this is where things diverge. Problem as I see it is that compared with something simple like the planetary economy, the climate is a non-trivial system. We have human activity to be sure — coal, oil, gas and forests all cheerfully burned to power our civilization. And in some quarters nowhere near fast enough. But there are other factors — and more are discovered every week. We have the heat flow from the sun, the impact of large scale magnetic fields on all sorts of interactions, thermal properties of the earth and seas. And this is to say nothing of the solid gas hydrates on the ocean shelves, the gasses coming from permafrost organics that have been frozen for millennia. And the venting from millions of beef cattle who are very gassy on the diets we feed them to speed the trip to the table.

The problem with models is that at best we have simplifying assumptions about the factors we know about, the actual interactions may be a bit more complicated — and likely non-linear in ways we cannot even imagine. Then there are the factors we suspect, the known unknowns. And then there are the unknown unknowns… So while the models may be descriptive, I suspect they have a long way to go before becoming prescriptive. So airconditioning the arctic to refreeze the ice cap (and where does the rejected heat go one might ask?) or putting a giant parasol in space — if we could do it might have other effects than the one predicted by the proponents. But it is increasingly obvious that it is heretical to suggest otherwise.

Back to the columnist… the stuff I have read of his seems to be nothing more extreme than saying trust the science but the predictions not so much. A sense of modesty is called for about what we know and, probably more important, what we don’t. And what we can do to effect long term change. Not sure this is climate change denial in my book — but some seem to think so. And are suggesting that perhaps burning at the stake for heresy should be revisited.

There is one other factor that suggests caution. There are places right now that are being harmed by climate change — island chains vanishing under the sea, coastal erosion and flooding here in North America. And arctic communities under threat because the ice is melting and the permafrost is thawing — so their homes are vanishing. Curiously, we have no money to help any of these folks. But I guess if we don’t like them probably plenty of money to bomb them…

And changing the entire basis of our collective societies from burning stuff to something less destructive is not an overnight task, nor a free one. (Assuming there was the political will to do that, either.) Might be easier if we were not so eager to make more people and worsen the problem — but that is another rant. And if the climate modelers are right, even if we stopped everything right now it will take centuries before things change.

So I suspect that in reality the targets are where there is an easy buck to be made, like here in Ontario, and the sincere believers are being encouraged to think that these projects are the solutions to a planetary catastrophe and no one must stand in the way. Any one who disagrees is a heretic and must be burned. Of course that adds to greenhouse gasses but who cares, anyhow… not when there is money to be made. And in the end, the climate will do what it wants and we will adapt to it or perish.

Ontario’s Alternate Power Reality

Just yesterday there was a news item that here in Ontario our power rates are going up again effective the first of May. In one of the discussions there was a link to an interview with Premier Wynne in the Ottawa Citizen where she mentioned that the government was dedicated to pushing power rates up and up, referencing the Long Term Energy Plan of 2013, released mid 2014.

So I located it online and started reading it — and a couple of items really attracted my attention, shock really:

1. The document shows power rates climbing steadily for years, leveling off likely after I will no longer care. This levels off somewhere around 50% higher than we are seeing now. And we already have the most expensive power in Canada and racing parts of the US for the most expensive in North America. And unlike many places I have lived, the cost to get power to my door is ‘distribution’ and is effectively a multiplier on this number. In our current bill the ‘cost’ of electricity is less than 50% of the total. So the numbers they toss around are somewhat egregious. The Premier feels we need to pay the ‘real’ cost of power and are not yet close. More on this later.

2. Their graphs show a plan to expand wind turbines until they account for 1/3 of Ontario’s power. Explains why every bit of prime farmland and vacation land is being covered with these things over the objections of the locals and one suspects their own environmental laws and treaties. The odd part of this is the Province cannot absorb the current amount of wind generation due to a simple fact of weather-tied power generation that seems to have slipped by. The wind blows when the wind blows… a detail that was observed in the early GE analysis. And in Ontario that is typically NOT when the peak power demands are. So the surplus is exported to the US at a deep loss and the difference added to the cost of power we pay — the wind guys get 0.18/kw but the power is sold for 0.03/kw. Solar is even worse… don’t ask.

Recently IESO got a reprieve on the requirement that wind have guaranteed access to the grid. So rather than compromise stability with these barely predictable surges of wind power, IESO is allowed to pay them to NOT generate power. Our Energy Minister states that power exports are profitable — but he neglects to mention for whom. My bet it is not the Ontario power consumer.

This brings us back to the question of the true cost of power. I suspect the real number independent of these ‘green’ power initiatives, the ‘smart’ grid (read central control is good for you) and the various science projects (like inertial storage of utility power) is probably still modest. Let us not forget that to accommodate the build out of these pinwheels both nuclear and hydro are being deliberately wasted. Much of the soaring cost is forcing the users to eat the losses resulting from the overproduction of wind power. What is curious is that a justification for the breakup of Hydro was their off the ranch experimentation wasting taxpayer money — and yet here we are again, even worse.

3. In a number of places the Minister refers to energy conservation as a new, clean power source. There are a number of graphs that show this power source as being added to more tangible forms of power like hydro or nuclear. To be fair, there is a footnote that suggests in some places this is recognized as generation construction avoidance. But from various statements in the LTEP and associated documents it is not at all clear that the Minister really understands it as such. The term is thrown about in a manner similar to suggestion that famine were a new food source. The parallel is apt — just as healthy bodies need adequate nutrition, a healthy economy needs affordable power. Just not here, it seems.

4. Despite the assertion that the government is pushing for more renewable power, there is nothing renewable about the explosion in gas turbines all over the place. We can see the Napanee plant from our window — being built right next to the existing idle Lennox generating station, also gas/oil. And by locating these things far from the point of use, they are really maximizing the transmission losses on the generated power.

5. And there is an odd thing to about the comment about the true cost of power — the LTEP has a couple of cost graphs that show nuclear refurb is about the cheapest power and wind sits smack in the middle of new nuclear. But to build a nuclear plant requires long term political stability. Not a characteristic of politics here — the weather is more stable and predictable than a politicians promise. Even this year.

6. But wait, there is more. The one thing we don’t really know and are definitely NOT looking at is what the long term impact will be on the Province. Remember that it is the prime farmland and recreation areas of Ontario that are being covered. Wind farms interfere with global circulation in a number of ways — they add turbulence that enhances heat transfer, so downwind it is both hotter and drier. There have been some studies that suggest the low level vibrations drive out earthworms. Will this impact agriculture? And do we care? There is always California… (no, wait!)

And from a weather perspective, Ontario is a small place with insufficient geographical diversity to have a variety of wind regimes — watch the Sygration reports, more often than not the wind farms all get idled at the same time. The Germans found that this was true even on a very small scale — pulsations in wind occurred across large areas and made for surges in output that were, shall we say, problematic. So the argument that the wind is always blowing somewhere is still valid — only on a far larger scale than their imagination.

All of this reminds me of that scene in Alice where the Red Queen is going on about all the impossible things she does before breakfast. Any of this seeming familiar? We seem to be swirling down that rabbit hole — and I am looking for the White Rabbit. Or perhaps it really should be the blue pill.

Forward Into the Past

Thought crossed my mind today, somewhere between the news flier touting propane appliances as the latest ‘green’ technology and the ‘science’ article questioning why people persist in the controversial strategy of even considering nuclear power — that perhaps we should simply declare that the 19th century was really the best of all times and that we are rolling everything back to then. Finish the job of dismantling the grid, stop commercial airplanes and cars, continue to do nothing to hold back the return of highways to the dirt, no more vaccinations — disease is good and culls the population, and so on. Just think… Steam Punk as prescience.

After all, the 19th century robber barons appear to be the model of the ideal contemporary citizen. Social services? A wasteful excess — besides, no one worth taking care of does not have the means to hire their own doctors. Who cares about the others. Not worth mentioning anyhow. Climate change? A myth — besides, there are those ski resorts in Antarctica to consider now that Whistler is getting rain. And if we cut wages enough then maybe our suits and gowns can be tailored here rather than in Hong Kong. And it will be easier to get domestics.

And look at how much money can be made by keeping the world in a perpetual state of regional wars. And provides a sink for the surplus lower classes. The security services will keep the rabble away from the estates anyhow.

And I am sure there will always be some aviation — got to have some way of getting the produce in from South America now that California is going back to desert. Too bad we were so successful in killing off local agriculture. But we can sell all that abandoned land around the wind plants to folks from away and they will bring in their own coolies to till it. As for the huge pile of people in the cities? Heck, they will find ways to cope. After all, ‘Soylent Green’ provided a model.

The kernel of truth in all this is that the strength of the 19th century, as practised in the industrial US anyhow, was that it was as locally self-sufficient as possible. Bringing stuff from away was difficult and expensive so people made due with what was available. Houses used local materials and were designed to suit local conditions, not fashion statements from somewhere else. The local machine shop and pottery made what you needed as did the local woodwright. And most food was local too. Self-reliance, a traditional virtue I think we have largely forgotten.

Nice fantasy. But tough to do when there are sooooo many people and even more to come. Problem is that coping with the world we are making will just not work by rolling back the clock. 21st century problems require 21st century solutions. After all, at one time gasoline was considered too dangerous to use, but we learned. Supporting huge piles of people simply requires huge amounts of power — and there are very few choices available to produce it. We need to stop whining and do some engineering — or the road back to the 19th century will not be pretty.

Fire Good

The New York Times had an interesting article about biofuels this morning. The suggestion was that this approach was a losing proposition over the long haul with a growing population. So to move away from carbon different approaches were advised. The comments, for the most part, were typical as well — most were still stuck in the reality of a fire-based society and were more prepared to argue the different forms of fuel that step back and look at the big picture.

But I see it a bit differently and am perhaps a bit more pessimistic. My comment:

“‘Fire good…’ one of our ancestors must have acclaimed a long time ago. Yep, still doing it — just got a lot more creative about forming the fuel. Cut it down, dig it up, grow it and weave into baskets before burning… all pretty much the same. The rub is that there are more of us so using the atmosphere as an intermediary carbon store is not going to reduce levels. And the problem is that ‘biofuels’ are costly to produce — by substituting technology for time. Lets face it, fire is biological solar power releasing the energy captured by plants over time. Its virtue is energy storage in a stable form.

So sure, we can come up with technological equivalents for natural processes but the basic issue of more people makes this a losing proposition. And it diverts resources from other uses.

The challenge is how to live (or not) an energy-intensive lifestyle without burning stuff to do it. The key is storage and transmission of power and coming to terms with other forms of generation. Just changing the brand of what we put in the tank is not going to do it, regardless of how much their advocates claim.”

Think about it, really. Coal, oil, wood, gas are all carbon compounds produced at the end of some process that started with photosynthesis a long time ago. With the exception of wood, pretty much everything else requires heat and pressure over a very long time to transform the original biomatter into the present forms. But essentially it is just biological solar power. Sunlight transformed into a material that is burned to release the captured energy through a chemical reaction and return the bound carbon into the air — to be picked up by a photosynthetic organism someplace and recycled. The air is just an intermediate store in the whole process. Recycled… is that not the point of ‘renewable’ energy anyhow?

Problem is that the arc of our civilization is based on consuming more and more energy as we use technology to leverage our existence away from our primitive fore-bearers. Sitting here in the house writing on my computer, radio playing in the background, heating system keeping me warm, etc — probably using more energy every day than my distant ancestor in a cave used in his lifetime.

But with more people and each of them using more energy that is a lot of carbon that used to sit in the ground floating around and contributing to global climate change by absorbing heat directly. The problem is burning stuff to release energy, not so much IMHO the form of the carbon source being burned. So biofuels are really a diversion — we have been using biofuels all along, are just substituting technology (and consuming some of the released energy) to hasten the process. More people, more burning stuff, more crud in the air… not a good direction. (Take that, tar sands…)

The problem is really storage and transmission. A jug of gasoline or a pile of coal is a lot of stored energy sitting there. While it has been suggested (in the article for sure – a factor of 50) that solar panels were a far more efficient way to convert sunlight into power we don’t have a good way to save it for later. Even pushing it to the other side of the country is not without losses — and they do mount up. Losses upping the voltage, passing through the wires, dropping it to a safe level at the other end. There are a variety of views as to how much gets lost end to end — I have seen as low as 9% (how hydro grosses up our usage) to as high as 30% (Lawrence-Livermore Labs US energy flows). The reality is out there somewhere. One suspects that by making every larger and more interconnected grids we are making it worse [think one grid to rule them all…]. And like most things bigger is more brittle and harder to manage. Try telling that to politicians infatuated with ‘economies of scale’.

There is another problem to mention as an aside — our fire-based civilization (many of them, really) is a 24 hour beast. In the past life was driven by the sun unless you were very rich — the day started when the sun came up and wound down at the other end. Still, consider the lifecycle of someone using the sun for power, extended, most inefficiently, by energy storage into the night. Adding wind really doesn’t change much — the wind blows when it blows, not when you need the power it is producing. (And wind is driven by temperature differences globally — wonder how that will change as the planet continues to warm?) And backing all this ‘renewable’ power up with gas generators that have to run all the time to be ready and warm when needed isn’t as much a solution as a sort of slight of hand. We pretend the power is non-carbon but its an illusion, even ignoring the industrial processes and material needed to make huge swaths of solar panels and towering concrete, steel and fibreglass wind turbines. The natural gas keeps being burned day and night and the exhaust bubbles into the air.

What is the solution? Wish I knew — but it is probably electric in some form. Don’t think 9 billion people are going to go back to agrarian societies subsistence-farming their local patch of land. And neither will huge cities work well if the lights, heat and water all go off at sunset. To say nothing of the 1,000 mile oxcart run to bring in food. So there is still a need for large scale power storage and transmission. The later is less of a problem if generation and use are more localized — fewer extension cords and points of failure. Problem is some poor city-dweller is going to have to accept a power facility down the block. Sorry about that.

As I see it the big problem areas are mobile sources of power — cars, trucks and especially aviation. There are solutions for boats, mostly because they are almost small cities and adding tons is less of a problem. And rail has been electric for a long time in some places. Bullet trains are all electric, diesel locomotives are really electric with their own oil-fired dynamos (still burning stuff). Steam locomotives died out mostly because they had no way to recycle the water — a problem in many areas (and getting worse).

Personally, I would love to have an electric car. A lot simpler than the beast parked in the driveway [a small truck]. But I use that thing at most two or three times a week — ok because the gas just sits there and the starting energy in the lead-acid battery persists long enough. If it were much longer even that would be problematic. Most electric storage doesn’t work anywhere near as well and its heavy so the amount that can be carried is reduced [think amount of energy and the weight of the storage to hold it]. So even the best have a far shorter range than the beast with a full tank of gas and take a lot longer to recharge. Industry has used electric trucks in plants for a long time — but I don’t know anyone who is even trying to do a delivery van with batteries. Its all the same problem — energy storage.

So meanwhile, once again in my humble opinion, all this work at carbon capture and alternate biofuels is just a waste. Even if we succeed in some of these processes the growing population dooms us. Getting out of this mess without making an unlikely societal transform is only going to happen if we find new ways of producing and storing energy that don’t require burning things — its not a contest that burning chunks is bad but liquids are good [or somesuch]. May even have to face our fears about nuclear and perhaps admit that the first generation plants were not so good (although statistically enormously better than the alternatives — the fear is not based on what did happen, only what could have).

In a sense it is a far bigger challenge than going to the moon. And it will be hard. But like that latter effort the real benefit will be what we learn along the way. Would be encouraging to see more movement in that direction and less on making burning stuff even more inefficient. But so far, not so much.

Making change from climate change — or not.

Of late there has been a flurry of opinions thrown about regarding different capitalistic models to profit from climate change. Ostensibly, if we pick the right model, we can both make money and save the planet. Right…

Similarly, in Ontario, we have a government announcing that they were intent on having 20,000 megawatts of the provincial power supply provided by ‘renewables’ — which is interesting considering that currently the published generation capability is 27,000 megawatts — 12,000 is nuclear and 8,000 is hydroelectric. Today the Province was using 17,000 megawatts and there was very little wind. But rural areas are going to be carpet-bombed with these huge pinwheels over their strenuous objections. And so far the bulk of the power produced has to be dumped at fire sale prices. And to protect the grid, the power authority has been granted the ability to pay the wind folks for not generating power based on what they could have produced if we could have used it. No, I am not making this up…

Guess the problem of saving the planet has gotten tangled up with the need for the ‘right’ people to make money off it. Reducing emissions has become entangled with pricing ‘carbon’ and produced trade-able certificates that can be bought and sold for a profit. Similarly, Enron introduced a model for electricity markets where one speculated on future power prices to protect ones’ costs — interesting that Ontario is still very quietly trying to pursue that model. May have something to do with having Enron as advisers on how to make the Ontario power system ‘modern’…

The climate has been changing since the Earth first coalesced from the dust of the solar system. Change is perhaps the only constant. Every week one reads about some new relationship being discovered that influences climate. It ranges from shifts in the orbit and planetary orientation to the sun, through variations in solar cycles, to emission of gasses that trap infrared and conspire to produce a greenhouse effect — Venus is an extreme case. These gasses include carbon dioxide — the result of human respiration and combustion processes and methane — the result of animal flatulence, permafrost decomposition and clathrate decomposition. The latter is due to methane seeps on the ocean floor that crystallize as vast field of solids under deep sea pressures and temperatures. Problem is that as the seas warm this stuff is turning to gas and joining the party. Human emissions from fires, transportation and industry are part of the problem — but only part.

Now I am reasonably sure that industrial civilization, striving to burn anything they could get their hands on, have been big contributors to this mess. But since we are not the largest contributor it is only hubris that would lead us to suggest that any one series of actions would ‘save the planet’. We fuss about not having made accurate predictions about ISIS and yet they used the internet to spread their propaganda and had lots of folks watching them. How accurate do we really think our ideas of how the climate is changing and what, specifically, we can do to influence this — given that the atmosphere is a complex product of the actions of a very complicated global system [of which I think we have at best a few guesses but no real grasp] and the action of a large pile of people who do things for their own reasons.

I am inclined to think that the best thing we can do is worry about how to help all those people who are being affected by climate change. And develop strategies for how to adapt to a warmer and drier/wetter world (depending upon where you live). And leave the ‘who’s fault is it’ and who will pay discussions for the lawyers in a later and hopefully smarter time. Burning less is always a good idea. Those petrochemicals are likely far more valuable as feedstocks for chemical synthesis. And ethanol… give me a break. Putting ethanol in gasoline was an idea from the 1930s to improve farm income in the Depression. That we do it now to save the planet is ludicrous — infernal combustion engines run more poorly on it than without. If the goal was to reduce GHG than this really is not a solution.

My concern is that with climate change we are on the brink of the largest forced migrations in human history. And putting up the concertina wire to discourage immigration simply magnifies the eventual problems. So we will chase the ghost of emission credits, alternate technologies and so forth. But one suspects that the climate will continue to change regardless.

Meanwhile, the real elephant in the room is there are just too many people. We are the ultimate invasive species. Look at where we have been — we cut down all the trees, drink all the water and dig up everything that might be profitable. And when we have wrecked that place we move on. I have seen sober analysis that suggests if there were 1 billion people the Earth could absorb whatever we do. But 7 billion or 9 billion or more? We are rapidly over-running the carrying capacity of spaceship Earth. The real climate change problem is that this invasive species (us) is consuming the planet — we need to control our numbers or go elsewhere or both. Personally, I would vote for going elsewhere — just basic monkey curiosity if nothing else. I want to see our species go to the stars — nothing else will be enough.

Green Lies

Was reading the latest expression of dismay by the IPCC regarding Canada’s climate change un-policy. And the excellent columns by Parker Gallant in Wind Concerns about the Ontario curriculum changes and educational indoctrinations to support the current ‘green’ viewpoints. Reminds me of something attributed to the Jesuits about getting a young mind and owning them for life… a pity that education here about is more about job training and ideology than clear thinking. Part of what convinces me that climate change in the catastrophic mode is inevitable.

Entropy increases — unstable systems oscillate back and forth until a stable, but chaotic equilibrium is reached. The planets’ climate has been swinging back and forth for a long time — if people have influenced it then most likely we have just hurried it up. Rolling it back to some historic ‘golden’ age is likely impossible even if we were gods, rather than just thinking we are. The sun adds heat to the system continually and global circulation distributes it. Some energy is used to drive our ecosystem and some radiates off into space, more when the globe is covered in glaciers, right now not so much. But as I understand it, warming is essential to get the conditions we need to increase precipitation and start the glacier cycle again. Your climate models may be different — and reality, as usual, has the only correct model.

Making technical and cultural changes to ‘roll back’ or ‘slow down’ climate change means going against basic human greed. As long as making money and being environmentally callous has the enthusiastic support of governments (Canada on tar sands, pipelines and occasionally asbestos) doing the environmentally responsible thing is unlikely. And lets face it, conservation and higher prices for less are just not popular ideas. And from reading the tripe being passed out by Ontario to children, it really seems that rather than saving the planet the real goal is to roll back the clock to some sort of 19th or 18th century status, the last time we tried to run a society on entirely ‘renewable’ energy — wind, sun (and lots of manure).

Well, we have part of it — people working for less and less money, rollback of voter and worker rights, environmental rules, journalism. Politicians who break laws and lie to the electorate (who increasingly work for the government rather than the other way around). More one man rule, less freedom in many directions justified by ‘i want’ rather than provable evidence.  More corruption in public office rather than less. It goes on and on.

As I have mentioned before, all energy sources are renewable — but some on much longer timescales than others. Solar comes up every day unless there are clouds. Wind blows as long as there are temperature and pressure differentials — these shift daily and seasonally. (And as a result of climate change.) Burnable materials — biofuels, wood, coal, oil and gas, all come from carbon reactions of living things but require various geological processes to transform into the familiar forms over time (sometimes a lot). Fissionable materials, like just about every other part of the material world, come from supernova explosions — so if we ‘blow’ through what we have there may be a bit of a delay ’till the next lot comes through. But we can be a lot smarter with what we have — unlike coal or oil, nuclear ‘burning’ is a transformation that produces other ‘burnable’ materials that we currently ignore. Or we could master fusion — the only real generative process that takes hydrogen and squeezes it into everything else, even black holes. Neat trick if we ever figure that one out. And is the universe as a whole renewable or recyclable?

But on a more realistic note, since we discovered fire, leaps in civilization were driven in part by finding increasingly powerful sources of energy.  Fire gave us cooking, ceramics and metals. Steam gave us mechanical muscles to lift, shape and carry. Electricity brought the day to the night and enabled revolutions in countless other fields. High energy liquid fuels gave us mobility and flight, even beyond our atmosphere.  Nuclear fission, besides really big bombs, offered a reasonably clean and safe form of power generation — but fear mongering and a couple of really big screwups seems to have crashed that effort.  A pity, because it has real promise but needs a lot of engineering to work out the problems. And as for radiation, the fearmongers conveniently ignore the effects of the hundreds of nuclear bombs exploded world-wide on the general populace. The US war on Nevada and Utah dumped fallout all across the US over and over — Chicago, where I grew up, was right in the path. One head, two eyes, other parts in the usual numbers and places. The reality is that the epidemic of horrors they tell us a small leak would cause didn’t happen.

In my darker moments I think that the ‘greenies’,  some of whom have gotten really rich on this loose collection of ideas, long to take us back to a simpler time and assume that they will be the lords in the manor while the rest of us become serfs, ignorant and fearful.  The wind farm folk are getting rich on our money producing power when it is not needed and despoiling our landscapes. And without lots of gas turbines running in the background the lie of this ‘renewable’ power source would be clear.  We pour ethanol into our gasoline and burn more than ever. Imagine how much happier we would all be if it had been drunk rather than burned…

Meanwhile, the climate is changing. And we play games with ourselves to come up with ways to make money on ‘slowing’ or ‘reversing’ it and finding other people to push off the costs to.  While the real issue of identifying and preparing for the changes is simply ignored in most quarters. The military and insurance companies are worrying about it. Some cities like Chicago have actually started thinking about it. Too many just pretend it is happening to someone else.

But as the world warms the differentials that drive the winds will change as will the cloud cover.  Be interesting to see how the thousands of wind turbines and solar panels do then?  And how well our supplies of burnable materials are holding out.  But one thing seems clear, the ‘greenies’ are not doing any of this for us.