Tag Archives: Global Warming

Let The Gas Loose

The price of oil is basically the same the world over. This is because fleets of ships and miles of pipelines transport oil from where it is plentiful to where it is needed (although a Carter era law bans the export of US oil). The only difference in oil price is due to its varying quality and the cost to transport it. Not so for natural gas. In the US, gas costs around $4 per MMBtu (million BTU, about a million cubic feet). In England, the price is $8, and in Japan, the price is $16. Why wouldn’t someone liquefy US gas, ship it to Japan and sell it for a profit? Of course because the government basically outlaws the practice.

The DOE and other authorities do authorize limited gas exports, but they are nowhere near enough to right the world pricing imbalance. Why should exports ever be limited, especially considering the US’s notorious trade deficit? Politics as usual.

Leftist politicians like Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ) want to outlaw the exportation of all energy. While saying they want the oil and gas to benefit the US, they really want control over the factors of production (hint: that is communism). Contrary to Menendez’s caucus, a free market sends efficient signals to energy producers and consumers. Banning trade has two inevitable results – wealth destruction and war.

The Obama administration is basically outlawing coal electricity, and contrary to enviro hype, the only technology capable of picking up the slack of the many retiring coal plants is gas. Wind and solar are pleasant fairy tales, but when renewable mandates hit the pavement, they are paid for with gas.

Outlawing coal, as is surely going to happen in June, can only work if gas is cheap, really cheap. Coal is a stable cost input for electricity, while gas has until recently been volatile. Enviros are in the tricky position of hating coal, hating fracking, hating drilling, and somehow often blaming everyone but themselves when energy prices spike.

If gas exports were unlimited, as the export of any civilian private property should be, foreign gas prices would fall more than US prices would rise, but US gas could rise perhaps 50%. If so, electricity would increase by about 30% depending on the simultaneous shutdown of coal plants. However, lifting of the de facto drilling ban on federal land and various fracking bans around the US would counter these pressures.

Even if the climate is warming, and the evidence is mixed, climate change should not be a religion wherein supplicants must accept the whole nut of enviro orthodoxy. There is no reason to believe outlawing US coal is going to stop or even slow global warming, and there certainly is no reason to believe the cost of outlawing coal is worth any environmental benefits. The only way to stop global warming within the largely artificial enviro construct is to keep China and the developing world in abject poverty.

So, let the gas loose on the world. Let electricity prices explode due to radical environmental policies such as drilling bans, fracking bans, and coal bans. Expose the folly of claims that wind and solar can replace coal. Force a complacent public to realize coal is a pillar of the US economy, and return environmental concerns to their proper framework, which is a balance between cost and benefit. Leftist enviros have lured many people into fool’s paradise wherein there are no costs or consequences to radical policies. It is time to grow up.

Scientists and Relevance

Children like dinosaurs. Actually, lots of people like dinosaurs; they are the epitome of exotic creatures with their size and diversity. Also, they died out some 65 million years ago, likely the victims of a large meteor that fell onto modern day Mexico. The Alvarez Hypothesis is an fascinating story, but altogether irrelevant to day to day life. If a planet-threatening meteor or comet has not hit Earth in 65 million years, mankind can take its chances. Most people dismiss the lessons of the past century, so nearly everyone dismisses lessons from the K-T Boundary. Do not tell that to Scott Sampson, the star of the children’s dinosaur program Dinosaur Train and Chief Curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

On NPR, Sampson reasons that an interest in extinct species is essential to preserving today’s Earth. Children who do not take an interest in dinosaurs and such spend less time outdoors, and children who stay indoors will not appreciate the outdoors enough to save it from manmade disaster. So, obviously dinosaur programs for children protect the environment. Sampson’s need for relevance must be compensation for the fact that his subject matter has turned to stone, because his logic is painfully tortured. Sorry, Dr. Sampson, your profession, while interesting, is irrelevant to all aspects of the modern world.

Sampson’s ridiculous theory about dinosaurs and environmentalism is insightful as an example of why scientists poke their noses where they are not needed or welcome. Without any question, many sciences are the bedrock of technological advances that improve every human life. Physics lead to semi-conductors. Genetics lead to the green revolution that saved billions of lives around the world. But, for every serious scientific discipline, there is a faddish one with no practical purpose. Social sciences are cute, but Mao said “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Gender studies are remarkable if only for the fact they exist. If it does not move an electron around, it is probably worthless.

Paleontologists are no doubt quite smart, but their work is largely irrelevant. Knowing one’s life work is little more than a source of amusement for children must be grating, hence Sampson’s contorted theory. A few decades ago, climatologists were weathermen with PhDs, laughably irrelevant. Of course, Global Warming changed that. V.P. Al Gore may have pocked $200 million from this scam, but thousands of climatologists got what smart people truly crave – respect. From this filter, the 1970’s global cooling scare and the 2000’s global warming scare make equal sense.

Why would a white man pretend to be an Indian, and protest Columbus’s voyages from 500 years’ ago (Ward Churchill)? Perhaps the need for relevance in a field nearly everyone considers settled history. Why do so many professors pine for anarchy, socialism, and communism when those social systems are antithetical to the existence of professors? Perhaps studying systems found on the ash heap of history is not as rewarding as helping to reinstate them.

Nobody wants to be irrelevant, but scientists should resist pumping-up their studies to create relevance where none is warranted. Science is a powerful attractor of politicians who would use it as a canard to control their subjects. Even as the various AGW nightmarish predictions fail to come true, and each successive model predicts less of a disaster than the one before, politicians continue to hammer away at what should be a lost cause. The general population is not particularly concerned about AGW, but that does not slow the special interests tied to AGW alarmism. Likewise, most Americans think communism is long dead, but not to professors whose only hope for relevance is to brainwash annual crops of poli-sci graduates. To these ‘scientists:’ please just enjoy your tenure, benefits, and comfortable work schedule. Don’t ruin everything by trying to be relevant.

Microsoft and Bad Green Energy

The New York Times did a typical anti-corporate hit piece on Microsoft yesterday, implying that the tech giant is a polluter, wasted energy, and acted as an evil corporate thug against the will of rural America. Unwittingly, the Times actually exposed some of the core fallacies of the ‘green’ movement’s shibboleths.

As do Google, Amazon, and many others, Microsoft bought some rural farmland to house the computers that power its online services such as Bing and HotMail. Microsoft chose Central Washington State because the area’s hydroelectric generators allow Microsoft to achieve ‘carbon neutrality,’ a corporate goal. While most of the neighboring farmers probably appreciate the several orders of magnitude increase in land productivity, the increased tax base, and the new high-paying jobs, the Times of course found a few people who think progress should be completely free.

Frist, the Times framed Microsoft as big and mean, quoting a local who apparently did not know Bill Gates had stepped down as CEO six years before the plant was built. Naturally, someone then sued, claiming that the diesel powered backup generators would create pollution if operated. Probably at the heart of the discord is that Microsoft demanded cheap electricity and fair treatment from the local utility in exchange for locating in the middle of nowhere. Also, Microsoft played hardball, wasting energy to force a renegotiation of a contract. More than showing how a handful of malcontents will fight investment, jobs, and progress, the Times article unwittingly exposes how the ‘green’ movement’s assumptions are very flawed.

The Times omits that internet services might be the best ‘green’ technology ever. The internet allows billions of people to avoid shopping trips and sending physical letters. Online conferencing replaces millions of business trips, and millions of people can work from home rather than commuting to an office. Even poorly run, internet services are immeasurably beneficial to the cause of using less energy. The green movement is not particularly high on saving energy to save money, however. They prefer command and control reductions in quality of life.

Microsoft, along with other internet companies, has pledged to become ‘carbon neutral,’ which means that it will meet its considerable power needs through alternative energy and from ill-defined ‘carbon credits.’ This is why Microsoft and others have located their servers near dams with hydro-electric generators. Because the electrons are pumped through the wires by water powered turbines, Microsoft can claim they are emitting no carbon, but the argument falls flat. Before Microsoft built its data center, the electricity was already being used elsewhere; the river turbines were already producing as much power as they could. Therefore, someone somewhere else was taken off of hydro-power and put on a natural gas turbine. Microsoft can claim what it wants for PR purposes, but the marginal growth in total electricity usage is powered by fossil fuels, no matter where the facilities are located. Indeed, long power lines waste energy, so to be ‘green’ Microsoft should have built its plant next to a natural gas field and installed its own turbines on site (look for a follow-up comment on Shout Bits’s idea for an efficient server facility).

A few locals also sued about Microsoft’s installation of diesel backup generators. Since the power grid can fail for a number of reasons, and Microsoft must provide its services worldwide at all times, it needs a backup power source. The generators are meant to be used very rarely, so the complaint was baseless, but the need for a backup power source is at the heart of ‘green’ power’s impracticality. While Microsoft cannot tolerate even a second of power loss, nobody else likes it either. Intermittent power losses would kill people at hospitals and cause chaos elsewhere. When the wind does not blow and clouds obscure the Sun, wind and PV solar electricity are worthless. Yet the lights stay on because gas turbines are spinning, ready to take on the load. Not only do these ‘green’ technologies cost several times more than gas, their hidden cost is that utilities must still install the same number of gas turbines as if wind farms did not exist. Further, the backup turbines have to idle at low power waiting for a drop in wind speed, which burns some gas and wears out the turbine. The only good thing about wind and PV solar electricity is that they are rarely used.

Microsoft also reportedly purposely wasted energy. To secure low cost electricity, Microsoft contracted for a minimum amount of power. The utility needed certainty that its investment in new equipment would be repaid, so Microsoft agreed to penalties if it did not consume enough power. Logically, the penalty should have been equal to the cost of the unused power, but apparently, it was cheaper for Microsoft to waste energy to avoid the penalty. Microsoft’s tactic proves that all parties knew the real power was coming from natural gas because the utility renegotiated the penalty. If the power was really coming from hydro turbines, the utility would be very happy to let Microsoft waste energy, as the marginal cost of that electricity would be nearly zero. Natural gas, however, is not free, so the utility was losing money compared to a lowered penalty below the retail price of electricity.

The Times sought to portray another corporation as an evil bully, but the facts also show how corporations make harmful and illogical decisions in the name of ‘greenness.’ Most often, the economic business choice is also the choice that consumes the least resources, including fossil fuels.