Some People….

December 14, 2007

Inside Track: From Freedom Fries to War Powers

by Philip Giraldi

12.07.2007

Representative Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, a conservative Republican who supported the Iraq War and co-sponsored the resolution that expunged French fries from the House cafeteria menu and renamed them “freedom fries”, might seem an unlikely foe of President George W. Bush. But then Jones saw the reality of the war he had helped unleash. A steady stream of dead and wounded soldiers from his district began to trickle back from the Iraqi battle front as the insurgency grew and the White House seemed at a loss to either explain or put an end to the worsening situation. Jones also became concerned about the increasingly bellicose rhetoric coming out of the White House regarding Iran, language that seemed to suggest that another and far worse war was about to begin. At that point, Jones decided to work with other like-minded congressional leaders to impede the president’s ability to go to war without any meaningful political process. The first place Congressman Jones looked to for guidance was the United States Constitution. ………………..

I have one word for you senator.  ‘Tit’.

It’s war, what did you think would happen?  People die and suffer terribly because of them.

People are pro-war until it starts hitting a little closer to home, then reality bites.
I always find that strange and annoying, maybe even a little sickening.  It always sends out the message that it’s ok aslong as it doesn’t directly affect me…


Some Science

December 12, 2007

The best of science, the worst of creationism

In 2000, a popular school textbook called Biology reluctantly dropped it’s prime example of evolution in action – industrial melanism in the peppered moth. Nothing in evolutionary biology had forced the change. The decision was entirely political,made in response to creationist attacks.

The loss of the peppered moth was a blow to science education in the US, as it is one of the easiest to understand examples of evolution by natural selection. So it is heartening to hear that biologists are fighting back. Thanks to their efforts, evidence that the moth is an example of evolution in action is more robust than ever.

This tawdry tale reveals much of what is good about science – and rotten about creationism. Creationists went gunning for the moth after a scientific disagreement over the fine detail of a seminal experiment done in the 1950s. They used the debate to portray the science behind industrial melanism as hopelessly flawed, if not fraudulent.

In response, one scientist patiently redid the experiment – it took him seven years. It is hard to think of another system of thought that is so stringently self-critical and self-correcting.

In science, everything is provisional . There are no preordained answers and fresh ideas are always welcome, so long as their proponents are happy for them to be tested.

That is not how creationists work. They already know the answer. They seek only evidence that confirms their conclusion, and distort or ignore the rest. Such an unreasoned approach is worthless. Creationists will keep trying to undermine the theory of evolution.

All science can do is continue, with dignity, to stick to it’s guns. As with the peppered moth, the best testable explanation will win out.

Conspiracy? Not in China

There’s no stopping a good conspiracy theory. For over 30 years, NASA has faced allegations that it faked the moon landings, and now it is the turn of the Chinese.

In October, the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e 1 entered lunar orbit, and last week the country released its first image of the lunar surface. Within hours of the picture’s release the internet rumour mill leapt into action on various Chinese blogs and forums, casting doubt on it’s validity and saying it bore an uncanny resemblance to a picture released by NASA in 2005.

The Chinese space agency replied that the pictures are similar because they are of the same part of the moon. NASA’s experience with conspiracy theories suggests that denying the rumour will only serve to keep it running. Ouying Ziyuan, chief scientist for the lunar probe, more or less guaranteed this by adding: “There is absolutely no forgery.”

 

Our solar future

In theory, solving the world’s energy problems should be pretty straightforward. Locate a piece of sun-drenched land about half the size of Texas, find a way to capture just 20 per cent of the solar energy that falls there and bingo – problem solved. You have enough power to replace the world’s entire energy needs using the cleanest, most renewable resource there is.

Can it really be that easy? For years, supporters of solar power have heralded every new technological breakthrough as a revolution in the making. Yet time and again it has failed to materialise, largely because the technology was too expensive and inefficient and, unlike alternatives such as nuclear and wind power, no substantial subsidies were available to kick-start a mass transition to solar energy. This time things are different. Aconfluence of political will, economic pressure and technological advances suggests that we are on the brink of an era of solar power.

The prospect of relying on the sun for all our power demands – conservatively estimated at 15 terawatts in 2005 – is finally becoming realistic thanks to the rising price of fossil fuels, an almost universal acceptance of the damage they cause, plus mushrooming investment in the development of solar cells and steady advances in their efficiency. The tried-and-tested method of using the heat of the sun to generate electricity is already hitting the big time but the really big breakthroughs are happening to photovoltaic (PV) cells.

Ever since the first PV cell was created by Bell Labs in 1954, the efficiency with which a cell can convert light into electricity has been the technology’s Achilles’ heel. The problem is rooted in the way PV cells work. At the heart of every PV cell is a semiconducting material, which when struck by a photon liberates an electron. This can be guided by a conductor into a circuit, leaving behind a “hole” which is filled by another electron from the other end of the circuit, creating an electric current.

Photons from the sun arrive at the semiconductor sporting many different energies, not all of which will liberate an electron. Each semiconducting material material has a characteristic “band gap” – an energy value which photons must exceed if they are to dislodge the semiconductor’s electrons. If the photons are too weak they pass through the material, and if they are too energetic then only part of their energy is converted to electricity, the rest into heat. Some are just right, and the closer the photons are to matching the band gap, the greater the efficiency of the PV cell.

Bell Labs discovered that silicon, which is cheap and easy to produce, has one of the best band gaps for the spectrum of photon energies in sunlight. Even so, their first cell had an efficiency of only 6 per cent. For a long time improvements were piecemeal, inching up to the mid-teens at best, and at a cost only military and space exploration programmes could afford. The past decade has seen a sea change as inexpensive cells with an efficiency of 20 per cent have become a commercial reality, while in the lab efficiencies are leaping forward still further.

Last year, Allen Barnett and colleagues at the university of Delaware, Newark, set a new record with a design that achieved 42.8 per cent energy conversion efficiency. Barnett says 50 per cent efficiency on a commercial scale is now within reach. Such designs, married to modern manufacturing techniques, mean costs are falling fast too.

As a result, in parts of Japan, California and Italy, where the retail price of electricity is among the world’s highest, the cost of solar-generated electricity is now close to, and in some cases matches, that of electricity generated from natural gas and nuclear power, says Michael Rogol, a solar industry analyst with Photon Consulting, based in Aachen, Germany. For example, in the US the average price of conventionally generated electricity is around 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. The cost of solar-generated electricity has fallen to roughly double that. This has created a booming market for PV cells – now growing by around 35 per cent annually – and private investors are starting to take a serious interest. The value of stocks in companies whose business focuses primarily on solar power has grown from $40 billion in January 2006 to more than $140 billion today, making solar power the fastest-growing sector in the global marketplace.

George W. Bush has acknowledged this new dawn, setting aside $168 million of federal funds for the Solar America Initiative, a research programme that aims to make the cost of PV technology competitive with other energy technologies in the US by 2015. Rogol thinks Bush’s target is achievable. He says the cost of manufacturing PV equipment has fallen to the point where, in some places, PV-generated electricity could already be produced for less than conventional electricity. Manufacturing PV cells at $1 per watt of generating capacity and the cost should be competitive everywhere.

Perhaps surprisingly, given its less than cloudless skies, one of the countries leading the solar revolution is Germany. In November 2003, amid rising oil and gas prices and growing concern over global warming, its parliament agreed a “feed-in-tariff” programme, which guarantees a market for solar power. Anyone who produces electricity from solar power can sell it to the national grid for between €0.45 and €0.57 per kilowatt-hour, which is almost three times what consumers pay for their electricity, roughly €0.19 per kilowatt-hour. Germany’s power-generating companies are required by law to pay this premium which is guaranteed until 2024. This guarantee has spurred enterprising individuals to invest in solar panels, confident of earning back the cost of their systems.

Source:  New Scientist


Gore shares Nobel win with U.N. climate panel

October 12, 2007

OSLO (Reuters) – Former Vice President Al Gore and the U.N. climate panel won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their part in galvanizing international action against global warming before it “moves beyond man’s control”.

Gore and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) won “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

They were chosen to share the $1.5 million prize from a field of 181 candidates.

“He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted,” the committee said of Gore.

“The IPCC has created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming,” it said.

“Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control,” the citation said of rising temperatures that could bring more droughts, floods, rising seas.

It was the second prize to a leading Democrat during the presidency of Republican George W. Bush.

The 2002 prize went to former President Jimmy Carter, which the Nobel committee head at the time called a “kick in the legs” to the U.S. administration over preparations to invade Iraq.

But chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes said the prize to Gore was not meant as criticism of Bush. “A peace price is never criticism of anyone, a peace price is a positive message and support to all fighting for peace in the world.”

Since leaving office in 2001 Gore has lectured extensively on the threat of global warming and last year starred in his own Oscar-winning documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth” to warn of the dangers of climate change and urge action against it.

It was the first Nobel Peace Prize to climate campaigners, though the 2004 prize went to Kenya’s Wangari Maathai for her work to get women across Africa to plant trees — an earlier expansion of the concept of peace to environmental work.

OVERWHELMED

Gore, age 59, said he was deeply honored to win and said he would donate his share of the prize money to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan non-profit organization.

“This award is even more meaningful because I have the honor of sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the world’s preeminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis — a group whose members have worked tirelessly and selflessly for many years.”

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said he was overwhelmed.

“I can’t believe it, overwhelmed, stunned,” Pachauri told reporters and co-workers after receiving the news on the phone at his office in New Delhi.

“I feel privileged sharing it with someone as distinguished as him,” he added, referring to Gore.

The IPCC groups 2,500 researchers from more than 130 nations and issued reports this year blaming human activities for climate changes ranging from more heat waves to floods. It was set up in 1988 by the United Nations to help guide governments.

In the run-up to the announcement, speculation that Gore could win the Nobel prize prompted questions about whether it could lead Gore to join the 2008 race for the White House.

Monica Friedlander, founder of the group http://www.draftgore.com seeking to get Gore to run, said it would now “be very difficult for him to say no”.

“He’s in a position to make a big difference,” she said.

The scope of the prize established by the 1895 will of Swedish philanthropist and inventor of dynamite Alfred Nobel has expanded over the decades from its roots in peacemaking and disarmament to human rights from the 1960s, to work for the environment and the fight against poverty.

Congratulations poured in from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barros, U.N. Environment Program chief Achim Steiner, environmental groups and others.

The Nobel prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.54 million) and will be handed out in Oslo on December 10.

All I can say really is well done.  I have seen his film, ‘An Inconvienient Truth’ and although it is pretty much an idiots guide to the basics of climate change he is putting the information out there, and for a Nobel Prize to go to someone promoting the issues that arise from climate change shows that the world is taking note.

On BBC News 24 today there was a small discussion about the prize, with one of the neigh sayers disputing man made climate change.  I wish I could have been on that program simply to dispute his ‘changes in solar activity’ point, which was his only point.  I think it was pointed out in a post I made recently that even the scientists involved in the solar research admit that man made greenhouse gases are causing the disaster that is happening now.  Read back if you are interested.

Well done Mr Gore, if for doing nothing other than promoting the issues.


UN climate summit

October 1, 2007

New York, United States — The good news: The biggest environmental gathering of government leaders in many years showed the world is finally waking up to the urgency of climate change. The bad news: Time is running out.

Yesterday, world leaders gathered in New York City for the largest United Nations meeting on climate change since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.  Top officials from 150 countries (including 80 heads of state) plus big names like Al Gore and Arnold Schwarzenegger were in attendance – and so were we.

“The time for doubt has passed,” as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his opening address.  Ban sees the world’s response to global warming as something that, “will define us, our era, and ultimately the global legacy we leave for future generations”

Gore told the world leaders, “We have to overcome the paralysis that has prevented us from acting”.  Governor Schwarzenegger called for, “action, action, action”.

One by one, heads of state stood up and essentially echoed their sentiments.  Our own Lo Sze Ping, from Greenpeace China, told the attendees that the world’s worst per capita emitting countries need to stop using developing countries as an excuse not to act.

Lo went on to call for an energy revolution with massive uptake in energy saving and renewable energy technology world wide, and real action by world leaders rather than more talk.

“At the climate negotiations in December, you must therefore agree to nothing short of a Bali Mandate,” he said. “Not a road map to nowhere, not a wish list.”

Bali Mandate

The next meeting on climate change negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol will take place on the island of Bali in December. Greenpeace is pushing for world leaders to strengthen the Kyoto Protocol at these meetings. Industrialized countries must begin the process of negotiating emissions reductions of 30 percent by 2020, and at least 80 percent by 2050 in order to prevent climate chaos.  This is what the best and latest science tells us is needed now to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

The meetings in Bali must advance a negotiating agenda, a Bali Mandate, to combat climate change on all fronts, including adaptation, mitigation, clean technologies, deforestation and resource mobilization. All countries must do what they can to reach agreement by 2009, and to have it in force at the end of the current Kyoto Protocol commitment period at the end of 2012.

US remains isolated

US President George W. Bush was not among the heads of state at the high level UN climate change meeting.  He only showed up late at the end of the day to dine with a select group.

Instead, Bush has scheduled his own meeting for this Thursday and Friday in Washington, DC, limited to the countries with the largest global warming emissions.  Bush’s meeting, imaginatively dubbed the “Major Emitters Meeting”, is widely seen as part of his strategy to avoid legally binding caps on greenhouse gas emissions.  Instead, Bush is pushing for voluntary, “aspirational” targets with no weight behind them. Bush is just pretending to care. The world must not be fooled.

At our meeting with Ban, last Wednesday, Greenpeace USA executive director, John Passacantando, reassured the UN Secretary General that people in the US are ready to tackle climate change, and dismissed the Big Emitters Meeting as a diversion tactic from a president no one is listening to anymore.

I knew it, bloody America as usual.  Spend billions and billions on a war that nobody wants or that solves anything and can’t commit to the future of our planet.  Says something doesn’t it.  I hate to be in that ‘I told you so’ bracket but….

On a different note it’s much harder to find time to study with a small person in the house!  Who knew!?  Not that I would change anything 🙂

I have also started a page up for my gorgeous baby girl  Chelsea-Jennifer.co.uk

I intend for it to be a place where I can record everything that happens in her life until she can dictate to me when she is older, and finally take over the blog herself.  Call it a special present from me to her.


World Energy Revolution Needed For Climate, Says Condoleezza Rice

September 26, 2007

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday the world needs a revolution on energy that transcends oil, gas and coal to prevent problems from climate change.

“Ultimately, we must develop and bring to market new energy technologies that transcend the current system of fossil fuels, carbon emissions and economic activity. Put simply, the world needs a technological revolution,” Rice told delegates at a special U.N. conference on climate change.

A landmark report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this year said human activities such as burning fossil fuels and forests are very likely causing climate change that will lead to more deadly storms, heat waves, droughts and floods.

The Bush administration’s position on climate change has evolved from skepticism to agreeing to work with other large emitters to forge international goals to reduce greenhouse gases. Rice will host a two-day meeting this week for the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas emitters.

President George W. Bush opposes mandatory caps on greenhouse emissions, preferring voluntary goals.

He believes the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases unfairly exempted rapidly developing countries and that ratifying it would have hurt the economy of the United States, the world’s largest emitter of heat-trapping gases.

Addressing climate change requires an integrated response that encompasses environmental stewardship, energy security and economic growth and development, Rice said.

“How we forge this integrated response has major consequences, not only for our future, but also for our present and especially for the millions of men, women and children in the developing world whose efforts to escape poverty require broad and sustained economic growth and the energy to fuel it,” she said.

BEYOND KYOTO

Since 2001, the U.S. government has invested nearly $18 billion to develop cleaner sources of energy, Rice said. Those include technologies that run on hydrogen, permanently burying emissions of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, advanced nuclear energy, renewable fuels and greater energy efficiency.

As the world looks to form a new emissions-cutting agreement to succeed the first phase of Kyoto, which expires in 2012, many countries say only mandatory caps on emissions can effectively prod the private sector to cut emissions.

British Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said earlier on Monday the United States and other large emitters must take on binding reduction targets on greenhouse gases.

“It is inconceivable that dangerous climate change can be avoided without this happening,” he told reporters at a meeting at the British mission.

Backers of mandatory emission caps say they promote low- carbon technology by, in effect, making polluters pay for emitting greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

Rice did not mention greenhouse gas-cutting goals, but said one of the biggest challenges is encouraging private sector investments to bring about a low-carbon energy future while ensuring continued economic growth.

“President George W. Bush opposes mandatory caps on greenhouse emissions, preferring voluntary goals.”

Without any caps and targets that are mandatory I feel that we will see what is happening most of the time now.  Companies putting out TV advertisments showing how ‘green’ they are but no real substance or change.  The worlds largest producer of the gases that are changing the face of our world forever really need to do more.  Saying ‘please’ to offenders isn’t really strong enough.

On a personal note, now that my daughter is in the world I feel the need more than ever to make a difference for the future of our small planet.  We don’t have another one.