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Recently there has been much discussion and debate on the revelations of government surveillance programs.  While I think the specifics of those revelations, and the debate around them, are interesting in themselves, I think the manner in which the debate is happening points to a deeper issue that our society is facing that I haven't seen addressed: the decline of falsifiability.

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We need climate policy beyond individual action---that seems indisputable given the scope of the challenge.  And maybe, just maybe, Whitehouse officials are now planning out what it might look like.

What's the problem?  The usual climate policies discussed by pundits and wonks alike have issues: a) they're complex and/or b) are easy to oppose politically.  The most common two climate policies are Cap and Trade and Carbon Taxes.

It turns out that there is a dark horse policy that is the simplest I know of.  When I first heard it, I thought to myself: now why didn't I think of that?  It has a certain undeniable common sense to it.  It's The Clean Energy Dividend.

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Thu Nov 22, 2012 at 10:11 AM PST

Tree Debt

by barath

Lately I've been listening to some talks on climate change, such as this one by Prof. Kevin Anderson, and the news, not surprisingly, keeps getting worse.  Anderson discusses many factors that have generally been ignored in official reports that claim to chart a course forward on the climate, including: a) a limit of 2C of warming is no longer really possible based upon the assumptions that they make, b) that 2C was probably the wrong target anyway, c) major reports make very unreasonable assumptions about how quickly emissions can turn around, d) we need to decrease carbon emissions by 70 percent by 2020 to stay below 2C (if we're serious about that target), and e) 4C is more do-able as a target but also can't support large-scale agriculture and thus civilization.

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President Obama mentioned last night that we need to fix the voting system.  Yes, definitely.

Fortunately, making our voting system work better isn't hard, we just need to look to people who've spent the time to figure it out.  Congress hasn't spent the time to research it.  Neither have voting machine companies, who simply want to sell their products to a captive market.

Who has?

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The metaphors in that statement really hit home for me: most of us living in wealthy nations know, somewhere deep-down, that if something bad happens to us that there'll be something and/or someone to take care of us---not just a long-term safety net, though there's that to a greater or lesser extent in various nations, but a short-term safety net.  An emergency room is the most fundamental of these.  (The title is a quote from Rep. Ed Markey, who I'd never heard of before, speaking today about the need for political action on climate change.)

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Wed May 23, 2012 at 10:31 PM PDT

A Hole Atop the World

by barath

I'm a contrarian, so I tend to believe that it's darkest before dawn about a lot of things.  And things are pretty dark when you look at how the climate is changing, when even the IEA is saying things like "we are seeing the door for a 2 degree Celsius target about to be closed and closed forever."  I do think we may be headed for an awakening of sorts regarding the confluence of peak oil and climate change.  While this awakening might not be acknowledged as such, let alone lead to appropriate action, it may be in the cards.  I've long thought that the apocryphal Gandhi quote on this---"first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win"---might be quite applicable, except the thing won in this case isn't so positive.

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Mon May 14, 2012 at 09:11 PM PDT

Free Energy Does Not Occur in Nature

by barath

[F]ree energy does not occur in nature...
There's one thing about that Orlov quote that has struck me over the years: how it applies more broadly than he originally meant it.

It's not just that what we generally think of as free energy doesn't occur in nature, but also that free energy does occur in the everyday lived environments of people in industrial nations, which we might thus say are unnatural.  (To apply the name of my blog: if nature implies a lack of free energy, then the presence free energy implies a lack of nature.)

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Hi everyone - this is my first time posting about something I think is very important: taking that next step after doing meatless Mondays: saving meat for the weekend.

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In 2005 it seemed that everything had changed.  And then in 2007 it happened again.  All of a sudden the only thing to expect was the unexpected.  I'm talking of course about the weather, and the changes due to radiation entrapment.  The climate seemed like it was dying.

Out of desperation, many prominent environmentalists converted to the religion of nuclear (fission) power between 2008-2011.  Each year the news about the climate was (and still is) getting worse.  Nuclear seemed to be the only way out.  After the Japanese earthquake and tsunami last year, some hedged and others doubled down.  Given that the crisis there is ongoing and possible worsening, maybe this is a good time to rethink those deathbed conversions.

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Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 10:29 AM PDT

Bill McKibben on the End of Growth

by barath

We all know Bill McKibben---one of the shining lights of the national (and international) environmental community, who's been educating us about climate change longer than most any journalist.  His creation of was crucial to a new stage of climate activism.

But because most folks know him for climate change, they don't know that he really has a deep philosophical understanding of the way we live that undergirds his analysis.  That is, he's not just telling us climate change is a problem or just explaining it as a consequence of fossil fuel use, but he goes further to explain the root of our environmental predicament: growth.  His most recent book, Eaarth, which may be the best book I've read in the past few years on any topic, actually only devotes the first of four sections to climate change.

Climate change is the backdrop.  It's already here, and it's going to keep happening.  What McKibben wants to talk about is what got us here and what we need to change to get us out.  I'd like to explore his extremely well thought out argument here today.

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The latest look at a classic global ecological analysis from MIT:

Next Great Depression? MIT researchers predict ‘global economic collapse’ by 2030:

A new study from researchers at Jay W. Forrester's institute at MIT says that the world could suffer from "global economic collapse" and "precipitous population decline" if people continue to consume the world's resources at the current pace.

Smithsonian Magazine writes that Australian physicist Graham Turner says "the world is on track for disaster" and that current evidence coincides with a famous, and in some quarters, infamous, academic report from 1972 entitled, "The Limits to Growth."

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Tue Mar 20, 2012 at 08:27 AM PDT

If Only We Had Free Energy

by barath

I thought I'd do a thought experiment. Suppose tomorrow morning a hypothetical university---let's call it T.I.M.---sends out their weekly press release claiming a "revolutionary breakthrough" that will change the way we think about energy. Unlike every other time in the past decade they've made this claim, though, suppose this time it's actually true: they've discovered a way of producing extremely cheap energy---as near to "free energy" as can be imagined. Specifically, they've invented Mr. Fusion, a system that can turn anything---trash---into energy via a form of cold fusion. While it can't be done on a small scale, it's expected to have an EROEI of more than 100, producing power at a cent per KWh. The plants are expected to last 40 years at the minimum, but nobody quite knows---maybe they'll last 80. And best of all, the research team is only 5, not 15, years away from commercialization.

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