Episode 12 "The World Set Free"
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6/7/2014 at 3:15:48 PM GMT
Posts: 5
Practicality of Renewable Energy
Our own Lynn Billman helped to make the town of Greensburg completely energy seek-sufficient. The result was a political miracle where the ruby-red Kansas legislature stood up to two of the richest and most powerful people in the country. We shall see if this can be repeated in Colorado where an initiative to keep the state from pre-empting the will of municipalities on fracking will pass. A recent NOAA and CU study showed that fugitive natural gas was 3x underestimated in Weld County -- enough to erase the GHG benefits of shale gas over coal. There was also a recent earthquake in Greeley even though there is not a nearby fault! See how the people of Greensburg (who are 18 miles from my in laws) stood up and won against the Koch brothers here from yesterday's All In.

Last edited Saturday, June 7, 2014
6/7/2014 at 3:27:29 PM GMT
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6/7/2014 at 6:45:56 PM GMT
Posts: 19
I'm guessing that if some "runaway" effect began to be apparent that we would resort to David Keith's "climate engineering" (see http://www.amazon.com/Climate-Engineering-Boston-Review-Books/dp/0262019825 ). He proposes that we inject reflective particles into the upper atmosphere to cool things down. (Read the book or watch the TED talk at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkEys3PeseA before you throw out all the typical objections.) Keith is also working on direct carbon capture with his company Carbon Engineering ( http://carbonengineering.com ). I like Keith's book not so much because of the geoengineering but because he recognizes that the answers aren't just science but involve politics, economics, and ethics. We have to decide what we think is important. And that is a fundamentally human decision.

I'm reminded of an interesting line in this COSMOS episode. Tyson talked about how Venus was paradisiacal during its first billion years. "Then something went terribly wrong." Then he went on to say that nature can wreck an environment without the help of humans. I found the subtle moral judgment here to be fascinating. From a scientific/planetary perspective why are liquid water oceans and moderate temperatures better than the hellish conditions of Venus today. Curious, in my opinion.

Last edited Saturday, June 7, 2014
6/7/2014 at 10:06:14 PM GMT
Posts: 12
Originally posted by G. Cooper:
Victoria stated: “The fact that the earth's weather is a non-linear, driven, dissipative system would mean that such small perturbations would probably be damped out too quickly to have the effect that is ascribed to it.”

Yes, that looks like an accurate way to state what should be obvious. It is, however, not how I think it was represented by Cosmos, where a real life butterfly somewhere could be seen as causal to a storm in Maine.

I just read your more recent post (#10) and I’m curious if you think a causal view of the Butterfly Effect is something adopted, or adoptable, by the scientism world?

[The Tyson link was interesting and would be worth discussing in the forum section.]

Hi George
Re your comments on my #10:
Ah, no, I was referring to things I've seen and heard atheists say about the implications of chaos for our Biblical worldview of God's orderly universe, namely that chaotic systems "prove that this view is incorrect".
The math and physics of non-linear dynamical systems is superb science. In my opinion, it shows just how wise God is to be able to design the properties and dynamics of space-time, and particles and fields ( or whatever it is that is really at the foundation of His creation) to display such a marvelous scale-dependent behaviour,  and that it should be described in such beautiful and elegant mathematics and simple unifying concepts (such as the idea that the path a dynamical system follows in phase space follows from finding the extrema of a functional integral - Hamilton's Principle, Lagrangians and all that came from those insights, which Newton made possible in the first place).

I suspect that the person who said this (I think it was in a Biologos Daily Blog post comment) did not really understand non-linear dynamical systems nor what a robust Biblical doctrine of an orderly Creation really implies. 

When your audience does not understand the real science, and you don't take the time to explain it to them, then you can tell them that the science implies whatever worldview conclusions you like and get away with it.  Dawkins and Krauss try to get away with this sort of thing all the time - my concern is that these shows, as interesting as they are, can be used as a medium to impart the worldview of ScienceTM ( aka Scientism) to an audience incapable of critically understanding the material.  Terry mentioned in one of his posts that he long ago learned to ignore the Scientism of such people - that's fine for us, being both trained scientists and thinking Christians (and thus with a vested interest in deep philosophical thought), but what of the audience for which none of those are true?

Last edited Saturday, June 7, 2014
6/8/2014 at 1:10:38 AM GMT
Posts: 19
See http://www.asa3.org/ASAradio/ASA2008Billman.mp3 and http://www.asa3.org/slides/ASA2008Billman.pdf for her presentation about this at the 2008 ASA annual meeting.

As for "practicability" I would only remind us that the town was flattened by a monster tornado. In other words the rebuilding of the town's infrastructure to implement renewable energy came at great cost. Most communities don't want to pay that price. Present infrastructure will only gradually be phased out.

Rich and I have gone round and round on fracking. I don't intend to repeat that here. I fully agree that it must be done without methane leakage which would offset any GHG gains in switching to gas from coal. However, we probably disagree on whether or not it can be done. I think it can be done and thus believe (with Obama's DOE/EPA) that natural gas is an important transitional fuel for our present and future electricity needs and possibly transportation needs (the Fort Collins bus system is fueled with compressed natural gas). See http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/colorado-first-state-to-limit-methane-pollution-from-oil-and-gas-wells/

Sadly, much of what passes as pro-environment local control is often nothing more than Gasland scaremongering. We'll see how local control advocates respond to increased energy bills if appropriately regulated fracking is banned.

Last edited Saturday, June 7, 2014
6/8/2014 at 2:22:24 AM GMT
Posts: 23
We (collectively) will respond to higher prices with the predictable kicking and screaming, even if we were moments ago working to make sure no fracking happens in our own back yard. But the higher prices still need to happen. One thing this Cosmos episode rightly pointed out is that artificially low-priced energy is the enemy of more responsible energy development. I don't know if you [Terry] were on the responsible fracking side of the argument you alluded to; but for myself I would have to lump any long-term planned use of petrol energy regardless of how easy or difficult it is to get as being irresponsible. And I say that as somebody whose family commutes in automobiles; so I am fully aware of my own hypocrisy. But hypocrisy doesn't make it one whit less true.

6/8/2014 at 2:45:25 AM GMT
Posts: 19
Mervin, I have been an advocate of responsible fracking. I probably would consider myself an advocate of some kind of carbon tax (and thus for higher prices) simply because CO2 is an externality like any other kind of garbage or pollution--remediating the pollution needs to be part of the price of the resource. The magnitude of our current global civilization's need and desire for energy is vast. And, none of us want our energy to go away. In fact, we encourage development of less-developed nations (meaning more energy demand) so they can benefit from modernity the way developed countries have. Substituting renewables for the present infrastructure just can't happen overnight. Sure, there's plenty of wind and sunshine, but windmills, solar panels, and infrastructure to use them take time, money, and resources. Even with a significant growth rate in the implementation of these technologies it will be a decade or two before supply from those resources meets demand. This is why natural gas with double the energy density (and thus half the CO2 emission) is an important transitional fuel. (If you utilize combined cycle technologies you can get even more energy and less CO2.) This is why we need to develop safer and lower cost nuclear (see http://pandoraspromise.com/ for some environmentalists turned pro-nuclear). And, of course, we need increased efficiencies and conservation.

So, I do think that there are some carbon-fuel solutions that help reduce GHG: biofuels, gas instead of coal, gas and coal with carbon capture and sequestration, waste to fuels technologies. Advocating any of these is not hypocritical at all--just striving toward the goal realistically.

What would be nice is if there could a lucrative (or lucrative enough) market for CO2. CO2 to chemical feedstocks or CO2 to fuel processes could be potentially profitable (especially with a carbon tax). See this talk from last year's ASA meeting: http://www2.asa3.org/movies/ASA2013Bocarsly.mp4 That chemistry takes energy, but if it's carbon-free energy then it's a form of remediation or at least a carbon neutral approach.

Last edited Saturday, June 7, 2014