Friday, December 7, 2018

Science you can believe in

As a progressive voter, I joined with many others in celebrating the terrific gains the Democratic party made in the US House elections.  At last, there seems to be hope of cracking through the brittle political stalemate of the past several years.  But I’m not really a party animal.  I want to see progressive actions on many fronts, but there is one above all that demands our attention and action:  We must act forcefully to put the brakes on climate change. Does that seem like more of the usual squawking of a climate-change chicken? It may seem so, but I am a scientist, not a chicken.  Like all good scientists, I am committed to the notion that by working at it, we can come to know empirical truths.  Not some Platonic notion of absolute truth, but a hard-won understanding grounded in experiment, observation, modeling—all that goes into testing and confirming hypotheses so thoroughly that we can bet our very lives on what we believe. 
Consider the recent successful landing of Curiosity Rover on the planet Mars. What can we say about the kind of empirical truth that makes it possible to send Curiosity Rover to the planet Mars and receive gorgeous videos of its surroundings?  To successfully bring off that amazing venture, the number of things that must be known, and the relationships between them is enormous.  Because all that myriad of empirical truths exists, the whole—the marvelous achievement of launching an object from planet Earth to land successfully on a precisely chosen area of Mars, 96 million miles distant—is successful, a triumph of human intelligence.
On October 8, 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a special report on limiting global warming to 1.5o. In the panel’s judgment, limiting global warming to 1.5o, as opposed to the presently set goal of 2.0o, would lessen some of the environmental impacts. The panel said, “With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5o compared to 2.0o could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society”. So much that is important for many of the planet’s people is bound up in those words, but how many who read them will feel their importance?  What it comes down to is that the vast majority of us who are not scientists must place our faith in what climate scientists tell us. Thousands of experts on climate-related matters from nations all over the world have contributed in ways large and small to the exceptional understanding we now have of Earth’s climate system.  They’re warning us of what lies ahead because they believe collectively in the soundness of the overall assessments produced by the IPCC’s work.  In this respect, they are like the thousands of scientists that made their individual contributions to the success of the Curiosity Rover mission. 
The fate of the planet does not hinge on whether we choose to accept the soundness of the science that has gone into making the Curiosity Rover program the marvelous success it is.  By contrast, it is simply a fact that if we don’t accept and act soon upon the advice of the IPCC, the planet will change in ways that will cause misery and eventual loss of human life on a scale never before seen.  That sounds overly dramatic, but humanity is facing a rising climate change the likes of which has not occurred on Earth during the epoch in which human beings have evolved and come to “rule” the planet.  We must keep this vital point in mind: It is true that the planet’s climate has changed immensely in past epochs, much more dramatically than we can expect that it will over the next few hundred years.  But those changes came about when there were no human beings on the planet! We have to concentrate on the changes we can see coming in the very short run of decades, not thousands of years.  
We are the causative agents of the changes that are upon us.  Detailed analysis of ice cores drawn from the Greenland and Antarctic ice show that the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere right now is far greater than it has been at any time during the past 800,000 years.  Only our most vigorous and quick actions can forestall the worst effects of this, and we’ve got to halt further additions. We’ve come to take for granted the prowess of science in almost every aspect of our lives.  Now we’re being told something we don’t especially want to hear.  The fate of society depends on whether we pay attention and act.
One last thing: Some of you may have caught videos of the Town Hall Meeting that Bernie Sanders recently organized in Washington D.C..  You can find some of the materials on YouTube, but an interview of Senator Sanders by Naomi Klein is a good introduction. There will be more of these Town Hall meetings to come.  I urge you to look for them.

Friday, November 30, 2018

We have not “world enough and time."

In his poem, “To His Coy Mistress” the 17th Century English poet and politician Andrew Marvell has a young man warning his mistress of the shortness of life:  But at my back I always hear/ Time’s winged chariot hurrying near. Recently, the mandated annual report of governmental agencies on climate change was released—it was not good news. It reiterated what scientists have been saying for quite a long time now:  we don’t have a lot of time in which to make changes that will slow the rate of increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and—as rapidly as possible—bring the level down to pre-industrial levels. 
If Marvell were alive today and a progressive member of the US house or senate, he might well be pressing upon his colleagues the shortness of time with respect to climate change.  The increasing extent of public awareness of climate change is encouraging, but it has not progressed to an understanding of what can be done about it, or a political consensus on steps that must be taken.  Trump, finally caught in a corner with this latest report, whined that all the other industrial nations of the world were not taking steps, so why should we?  We can’t solve the problem on our own, he says. The fact that he pulled the US out of the Paris Accords, coupled with his feeble ability to recognize and remember things he’d rather ignore, accounts in part for his ignorance of facts such as that nations all over the world,  including European nations and China, have been moving rapidly to deploy renewable energy sources, reform transportation, and so on. But the world, and the US especially, is not moving fast enough.
In prior blog posts, I’ve called attention to Project Drawdown, a comprehensive plan to reverse global warming by taking many steps, each of which can contribute to a slowing or reversal of the levels of greenhouse gases. The book, Drawdown, available from Amazon, Target or any other online bookseller, is beautiful and inexpensive; I hope you’ll buy a copy.  The surprising conclusion one reaches from perusing the book is that many of the most important moves the world can make are not really high tech—education of girls in places where there is poverty; reforming our food production and distribution networks to avoid waste; move toward plant-based diets; restore depleted lands by growing perennials that return carbon dioxide to deep root systems—there are many inventive and feasible ideas to be considered.  But all the measures we might imagine employing relate in one way or another to energy.  The generation and uses of energy form an interlocking and often interdependent system. Technologies and new science will be necessary components of a successful response to the threats of climate change. 
For example, there is so much going on in solar energy as a renewable source of energy!  The advances being made exceed anyone’s expectations of only a couple of years ago. For example, First Solar, an American company, has come up with a novel method for depositing cadmium telluride thin films that has led to an entirely new generation of large, highly efficient panels such as the one shown, that produce electricity at a cost of about 20 cents per watt.  Only two years ago that was 60 cents per watt.  When Congress cut down on the support of startup industries related to energy a few years ago, the solar industry nearly disappeared in the US. We never seem to learn patience to go with level-headed planning and the search for bright new people and ideas.  In any case, there is every reason to expect that advances in solar energy generation will produce ever cheaper electricity.  But there are no panaceas to be had in these technological finds. Cadmium telluride is costly stuff, and cadmium is toxic.  We need to find materials that are great solar grabbers, cheap and readily disposed of when necessary.
Another large challenge is storage of electricity for the time between the moment it is captured and when it is used, probably in some remote location and at a different time of day.  An Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium on the Status and Challenges in Decarbonizing our Energy Landscape was recently held at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, CA.  This was a highly technical program, focused heavily on conversion and storage of solar energy.  There are promising developments in battery technology, but the way is long.  To illustrate where research is headed, here are the titles of two of the talks: Organic-Based Aqueous Flow Batteries for Massive Electrical Energy Storage.  Pathways for Carbon Dioxide Transformations Using Sunlight.
One sees opinion pieces here and there proclaiming that the giant technology corporations, with their commitments to fully carbon-neutral operations, could lead the way to massive drawdowns in carbon emissions for world society.  But as pointed out in a World Economic Forum paper, it’s not that simple.  In the large cities of the world, two-thirds of the carbon emissions arise from consumer choices and their supply chains.  And although we might argue for the moral imperative for humans to change their dietary proclivities, it seems unlikely that residents of countries with rapidly growing economies will want to forego a diet rich in meat; just the wrong sentiment if we want to reduce carbon emissions traceable to food production.  Here too, however, there is reason for optimism that the rapidly developing technology of cell-based meat production will have a massive effect before too long.

But this much is true: whatever pathways are followed to wean society away from heavy use of greenhouse gases, we must get onto them soon and follow them with vigor. Like Marvell’s young man, we can, if we just listen, hear Time’s chariot drawing near. Is your US Representative and Senator listening?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Can Food Tech help save the Planet?

The best-selling book, Drawdown, lists a total of 80 solutions to the threat of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases.  If these solutions were implemented in a timely way it would be possible to reverse the increases in greenhouse gases that have occurred during the past century or so. Drawdown is a wonderful book. I urge you to buy a copy and ponder which of the 80 solutions you might play a role in implementing.  Interestingly, switching to a plant-rich diet ranks number 4 in importance among those solutions.  It’s my favorite solution, not just because it would play a major role in abating the increase in greenhouse gases.  A plant-based diet would improve human health and would be among the most readily adaptive to nations at all stages of development.

I recently became aware of a new technology that could replace our ecologically wasteful practices in the production of animal-based food, one that raises new possibilities and new questions:  growing animal cells in cultures.  In the final day of a recent USDA-FDA public gathering on cell-cultured food technology it came down to essentially one question: If it looks like meat and tastes like meat...can you call it meat?

Representatives of food technology companies that start with cells from animals and grow them into meat products like burgers, nuggets, fish or sausages, say the products are, effectively, meat and should be labeled accordingly. Brian Spears, CEO of New Age Meats, said he served cell-based pork samples to his friends and reporters and they didn't notice a difference from traditional products. "It was perfectly mistakable for meat because it is meat," he said. "When we go to market and label this, it would be simply dishonest to label it as anything other than meat."

You can guess who doesn’t like that idea. Traditional meat producers seem to think that they have a lock on words like “beef”, “pork” and even the word “meat”. We’re talking here about something quite different from products made to look, feel and taste as much as possible like meat; for example, the Impossible Burger, made from plants and consisting of simple ingredients, including wheat protein, coconut oil, and potato protein. Many other vegetarian substitutes for animal-based foods are formed largely from soy or mung beans.  By contrast, the new cell-based products are formed from cells taken from animals and then colonized in some manner to multiply.   

This is all new to me.  I’m in the dark about the cellular compositions of the new –ahem—meat products.  I have no idea about how the new materials will be prepared and presented to consumers in grocery stores, about their susceptibility to spoilage, contamination and all the rest.   But when I reflect on the expenditures of energy, water and other resources required to make a typical animal-based food product such as an egg or chicken nugget, I so want this new technology to succeed!

Consider what it takes to produce a typical quarter-pound burger:
·         About 460 gallons of fresh water
·         About 13 to 15 pounds of feed, mainly corn and grain
·         About 65 square feet of land
·         A total of about 4 pounds of greenhouse gases, including methane

Add to that the environmental damages occasioned by animal wastes.  All this for one measly quarter-pound piece of meat!  As the per capita incomes in nations such as China climb, the citizens of these countries are avid to adopt American ways of life with respect to diet and many other niceties.  If all of the earth’s humans were to enjoy an average American’s standard of living, the Earth could sustainably support only about 1.2 billion people.

The agricultural enterprise that undergirds animal-based food industries produces enormous amounts of animal wastes that eventually pollute rivers, streams and ground waters. The big hurricanes that swept over the US during the 2018 season showed us once again how fragile our ecological framework actually is. An estimated 5500 pigs and 3.4 million chickens were killed in flooding following hurricane Florence. North Carolina, the second-largest pork producing state in the U.S., has more than 4000 open-air ponds filled with a mix of water and hog manure and urine—plus the remains of animal carcasses, blood, and chemicals from pesticides.  Several of these hog ponds have leaked into surrounding areas during flooding, exposing communities to E.coli, salmonella, and antibiotic-resistant MRSA. People forced to live in the vicinities of these facilities suffer a diminished quality of life and continuing threats to their health.

It’s not all that hard to become a vegetarian.  If you’ve never given it a try, why not start by setting aside one day of the week as a purely vegetarian food day? There are literally thousands of websites that offer great recipes: Forks over Knives, Dr. McDougall's recipes, just to cite a couple. With a bit of practice, you can even eat vegetarian or vegan in most restaurants - just ask. You too can help save the planet, while you live a longer and healthier life. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The latest IPCC Assessment meets Republican Luddites

Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a new assessment of the speed and scope of human-caused temperature rise.  It is indeed a sobering report, a responsible and soundly based set of recommendations as to the steps that must be taken if the limits to warming spelled out in the Paris Accords are to be met, and warnings of what is to come if they are not.  Predictably, some find it a scare tactic, lacking in sober analysis of the realities.   The report is controversial in terms of its assessments of some potential directions for mitigation.  Peter Shellenberger writes in Forbes that it is unreasonably critical of the potential of nuclear power to partially address the need for energy from non-greenhouse gas emitting sources.  From what I can see of the matter, I agree with him.  It’s important to look toward new nuclear technologies that bypass most of the issues the reports frets about, including safety.  This is an area that deserves more, not less investment.  But the report as a whole is compelling and frightening to those with the imagination to look beyond the immediate present. 

The Guardian has an extensive coverage of reactions to the report. The most disheartening aspect of reactions to the IPCC report is the reaction of Republican party politicians.  Since the Republicans voted in 2011 to no longer accept the recommendations of the IPCC, the party line has been to unreservedly reject IPCC recommendations.  In the wake of this latest assessment, one after another Republican politician has eagerly reached for a microphone to mock it.  What is so sad about this display is that this very real threat to human society should not be a matter of local US politics.  The IPCC is an agency of the UN, a global alliance of nations. To turn everything that comes from UN into a political football is irresponsible.  When the fruits of their short-sighted blockage come home to haunt this nation, these tinhorn so-called representatives of the people will have faded from view, leaving it to their progeny to try to figure out how to make their way in vastly changed world.   Ignorance is bliss, they say, but not forever.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

What Happens in the Arctic leaves the Arctic!

It seems that there’s been a lot of research news of late about the arctic climate.  It’s something to think about because we’re mostly not in a good position to make the connection between what’s happening in those frigid, icy domains and the climate we experience on a daily basis.  Here are a few things I’ve run across lately:

It's getting warmer up in the Arctic.  Look at this graph, above.

It shows the average temperature measured at about 6 ft from the surface at a large number of arctic sites.  The dotted line is the averages of those numbers over the period 1981-2010.  This graph tells us that the temperature has been steadily rising, as measured by several different groups and organizations.  The temperature has gone up about a degree Centigrade, or about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, since 1900. This does not seem like all that much.  Notice however that the rate of warming has been accelerating alarmingly.  In just the most recent two decades, it’s jumped up about two degrees Centigrade, about 3.5 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit.  The message here is that a future warmer Arctic climate is arriving on an ever faster schedule.

      A new article in Scientific American covers some of the consequences of what’s happening in the Arctic “A new study finds that rapid warming in the Arctic—where temperatures are currently rising faster than anywhere else on Earth (the italics are mine)—may be altering certain summertime atmospheric circulation patterns in ways that affect the weather in North America, Europe, and other mid-latitude regions.” Because this warming is relatively new and coming on strong, all the answers as to what will happen to mid-latitude weather as a result of the warming are not yet in evidence. But some things we’ve already seen, and models furnish predictions of what may come. One strong effect is showing up: more persistent hot-dry extremes in the mid-latitudes. 
      Some of the observed winter effects are counter-intuitive. A warmer, more ice-free Arctic can produce anomalously cold conditions further south, especially over Eurasia. There is a lot more to learn about the global climate effects, but we can be sure that the trends will accelerate in the years ahead.  Just because climatologists have an incomplete understanding of how Arctic warming affects weather in the mid-latitudes, we can’t take the view that nothing much is likely to happen.  Our recent summer and winter experiences are a mere warning of what is coming as the Arctic ice shrinks and then disappears, and Atlantic Ocean currents push warmer water into the Arctic.
     Then there’s the problem of the permafrost.   I recently learned from an article in National Geographic that nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere’s landmass sits atop permafrost. The figure that shows a view of Earth looking down on the North Pole shows  us where it is.  The darkest shade is permanent permafrost, and the lighter shades depict areas in which the permafrost may thaw to some degree seasonally.  As you can see, there’s a lot of permafrost. The deepest parts have been there more than half a million years.

It’s estimated that twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere is stored in the permafrost.  But it's beginning to melt.  As it does, microbes will begin to digest the stored vegetative matter, releasing carbon dioxide and methane.  Just about everyone is now aware that methane is about 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, though it has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere. These processes will add substantially to the increasing levels of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and the many other sources we talk about.
To add to the problems associated with melting of the permafrost, measurements show that permafrost regions contain relatively large amounts of mercury, Hg.  As melting occurs over the next century, that trapped Hg could be released.  Not a good thing!!

The world’s oceans are warming. Even without El NiƱo, oceans surged to record-high temperatures last year as they absorbed the bulk of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and farming. The increased evaporation at the surface that results is “fuel for hurricanes and other storms,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.  Hurricane Lane is giving Hawaii a near miss as I write this. Catastrophic flooding has hit the big island and much more seems in store. Trenberth compared the storm in Hawaii to the floods in Kerala, India, that left at least 324 dead and 220,000 homeless a month or so ago. “The ocean heat content globally was at record high levels last calendar year and now it is higher still and the highest on record,” Trenberth said. “The hurricanes that do occur can become more intense.”

Unprecedented wildfires continued to scorch western states, choking cities like Seattle with smoke, a  year after back-to-back storms wreaked havoc on Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and a wave of historic wildfires helped cause a record $306 billion in damages.  No wonder then that  James Temple dubbed 2017 in his article in the MIT Technology Review  “The Year Climate Change Began to Spin Out of Control.”
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a proposal to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with a rule that, by the agency’s own calculation, could cause 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 due to increased emissions. Optimists think that much of this eventuality is not likely to come to pass; coal is coming to the end of its run, despite Trump and his coal-friendly allies. “The world has shifted dramatically in the last few years to the point where we are going to get pretty close to the targets in the Clean Power Plan even without it,” said Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.  Anyway, just to make their point again, the White House has also put forward a proposal to gut fuel economy standards. It would allow vehicles to spew an additional 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide ― equivalent to the annual emissions of Canada ― by 2030.  I expect that there will be pushback against this absurd ruling on a state-by-state basis.  The intransigence of climate change deniers is a thing to behold. United States Senator James F. Inhofe (R, Ok) is living demonstration that it is possible to be incorrigibly wrong-headed. Here he is: “I maintain that the best course of action remains to completely overturn the endangerment finding so that there is neither statutory nor legal need for any greenhouse gas regulations. I will continue to work with President Trump and Acting Administrator Wheeler toward this goal.”
We get caught up in the daily dueling and take cheer in whatever steps are made toward mitigating the emissions of greenhouse gases, but the fact is that a lot of damage already done will make itself felt far into the future.  Even if we could stop immediately the emissions of all greenhouse gases, we’d still have something like the present 410 ppm of CO2 to contend with, an ocean that has warmed significantly, and glacial melting at a harrowing rate. And of course, we’re not stopping, or even abating the rate of additions of greenhouse gases.
I’m writing this from our summer home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The headwaters of the Tahquamenon river lie about 35 miles to the east.  Think of human society as a person in a canoe, moving with the beautiful dark waters of the river, which flows eastward through vast tracts of cedar.  There is a future somewhere downstream, but there’s no reason to be concerned about it. Just lately, though, there’s been this slowly building sound of water rushing. How curious!  What could it be?  The Tahquamenon falls, the third largest falls east of the Mississippi River, has a drop of about 50 feet, and is 200 feet across.  It will be tough to negotiate the falls in a canoe. Subscribe to This New World

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bye-bye, Three mile Island

Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported on the decision of the energy company Exelon to close the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in September, 2019.  The company gave as its reason the inability of the nuclear plant, located in Pennsylvania, to produce electricity at a cost that's competitive with cheap natural gas, a product of the shale boom, which ironically is a big deal in that very state.  I would not presume to argue with the short-term economic argument offered by the company, but in terms of the social welfare of society, this looks like a bad decision.

Let’s put to one side some of the timeworn arguments in opposition to nuclear power plants as a source of electricity.  Three Mile Island is famous, or infamous if you like, for having the only meltdown occurrence in a US nuclear plant.  The incident occurred in 1979, and produced a meltdown of the nuclear fuel in one of the reactors.  The accident garnered national media attention, and the anti-nuclear energy forces went on the offensive.  When all the dust had settled, and after seemingly endless investigative studies, comprehensive investigations and assessments by several well respected organizations, such as Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh, have concluded that in spite of serious damage to the reactor, the actual release had negligible effects on the physical health of individuals or the environment.  The approximately 2 million people around TMI-2 during the accident are estimated to have received an average radiation dose of only about 1 millirem above the usual background dose. To put this into context, exposure from a chest X-ray is about 6 millirem and the area's natural radioactive background dose is about 100-125 millirem per year for the area. The accident's maximum dose to a person at the site boundary would have been less than 100 millirem above background.  All the studies mean that the only thing that got hurt as a result of the meltdown was the operating company’s wallet.   

Since its return to operation without the damaged reactor, the facility has operated safely, is well-maintained and not at the end of its operating lifetime.  Three Mile Island is a major factor in the economy of the region.  Last year it sent $1.5 million in taxes and other payments to the local township, county and school district.  It employs 675 workers, many of whom are skilled engineers and mechanics, some of whom have trained with the U.S. Navy or in universities. Shutdown of the facility will be a big blow to the local economy.  But the deeper reason why it should not be closed has to do with climate change, and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Replacing the nuclear reactor with a fossil fuel-burning substitute means that more carbon dioxide will be emitted, whereas we should be focused on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.  In addition, while natural gas power plants are relatively free from the many harmful emissions that characterize coal-fired plants, such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, there is no guarantee that a company that bases its choices of energy source for electricity solely on current costs of production won’t be tempted to switch to coal at some point down the line, especially given the push for coal on the part of Trump’s agency heads (see my previous blog).  Furthermore, the production of natural gas from shale deposits is rife with stories of damaged ecosystems, especially fresh water sources, and pollution around wellhead operations.  

It’s been argued that nuclear energy now plays a less important role in our energy mix as wind and solar power continue to grow in importance. But this argument misses an important factor: the variable capacity of wind and solar to deliver power at a given time and place.  We need sources such as hydropower with pumped storage and nuclear, which are continuously available to balance power demand loads. Neither is without weaknesses that must be carefully considered, but until some radically new way of utilizing the sun’s energy or perhaps capturing the energy in ocean currents comes to fruition, we need these sources.  Most of all, we sorely need a political and economic system free to think and act long-term, not at the mercy of the stock market or political demagoguery, to guide our way to a drawdown of greenhouse gases.   How do we get there?

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Our anti-environment administration; renewing hydropower with pumped storage

The figure at left summarizes the various sources of greenhouse gases for the US.  Notice that electricity is a substantial contributor.  The reason, of course, is that about 63 percent of electricity generation is produced from plants employing fossil fuels, which upon combustion, convert to carbon dioxide.  Most of us have every reason to wish this dependence on carbon were much smaller.  Solar and wind power have come increasingly into the mix, and we can expect those contributions to increase rapidly in the years ahead.  But so much potential progress is being blocked by appointees in the Trump administration. Rick Perry’s time as the head of the Department of Energy is severely hamstringing the country’s economic development and energy security.  The detestable Scott Pruitt has finally been kicked out at EPA, but Trump has replaced him with Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist who worked for Murray Energy, the nation's largest coal producer.  Its CEO, Robert  E. Murray,  has been  an avid backer of Donald Trump.   Then there’s the appointment of  Daniel Simmons, a conservative scholar and renewable energy critic to be the head of the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).  EERE’s mission is to create and sustain American leadership in the transition to a global clean energy economy.  It’s difficult to imagine a less appropriate person to pursue this important mission. Simmons recently served as vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, a notoriously conservative think tank, supported primarily by fossil fuel money.  It advocates greater fossil fuel use and opposes the international climate agreement signed in Paris. If Simmons’s views on renewable energy, and his mindless favoring of fossil fuel over renewable energy enterprises in the US budget and environmental policies, find their way into practice, it would be a shameful betrayal of the public trust.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote in this blog about hydropower. In retrospect, I think I may have been more skeptical of its promise than I need have been.  Since that blog appeared, the New York Times published a beautiful interactive article on a $3 billion plan to combine the virtues of renewable but variable solar energy with the stored energy capacity of hydroelectric power. This is long-range, and years from completion, but the story is instructive and a pleasure to read and watch. In brief, the idea is that during the daylight hours a pumping station downstream from Hoover Dam would pump water that has already run through the hydroelectric station back upstream to Lake Mead.  The pumping station would be powered by a gigantic solar farm. The solar energy would in effect be stored by raising the water back up to the lake level so that it can be utilized again for electric power generation. While the solar farm is inactive, during nighttime, the energy it collected from the sun would be recovered in the dam.
This is not a new idea.  Pumped storage, as it is called, is already practiced at about 40 locations.  But this would be larger than any currently in operation.  It needs to be said that pumped storage is not going to be a huge factor in the nation’s energy budget, but, every bit helps. That philosophy is inherent in Project Drawdown, an imaginative approach to mitigating the increase in greenhouse gas levels via many different actions, some potentially very large, such as reforestation, regenerative agriculture, reduced reliance on animal protein and education of women and girls in developing nations.  
I must say that writing about pumped storage and Project Drawdown makes me feel refreshed after having to write about the visionless, narrow-minded and ultimately selfish machinations of our current executive leadership in Washington.  I only hope they don’t succeed in doing irreparable damage before the American people wake up.
         I urge you to have a look at the Drawdown site.  Watch Paul Hawken's interviews--he's inspiring.