Monday, March 04, 2024

The 14th Amendment

 As they say, I am not a Supreme Court Justice, but states in fact do not elect presidents in a presidential election. They elect state-based electors, which cast their votes for president. There are no federal administrators of elections: these powers are indeed reserved to the states. 

The 14th Amendment is not about the election process, it's about who can hold office. For example, it's pretty clear that legislators violating their oaths on Jan 6th forfeited their right to serve in Congress or any other federal office. They need not be indicted or tried for insurrection, their participation is as straightforward a disqualification as the age and nativity qualifications. A number of them should be booted right now.

That said, nothing about the 14th Amendment constrains who can be on the ballot; it merely disqualifies any insurrectionist from being seated, absurd as that sounds. You can vote for anyone - whether they are qualified or not.  The timeline is irrelevant, so if there are FURTHER insurrection attempts between now and Jan 2025, those restrictions still apply to other insurrectionists running for federal offices. That's right, I'm accounting for yet another insurrection in the hot summer of '24. 

So the question remains: which authority enforces these restrictions? It probably should be whomever is administering the oath. Should Trump actually select a Vice President who was not an insurrectionist, then by the order of succession, that person would become president. If not, so on through the presidential line of succession.

Friday, November 03, 2023

Aerosols to the rescue?

[comment to ars technica ]

We're now getting the kind of disaster that wipes out entire cities as a time. Just a few right now, but that's clearly going to accelerate, and not even be in places already acknowledged as vulnerable (that is, poor people and the global south). Temperatures that stay high evaporate more water, and there's going to be more water available anyway. 

We're used to storms destroying places, but having time to rebuild, sometimes even rebuild with the future in mind (e.g., not rebuilding in a flood plain), but whole new secondary effects are now getting enabled with the temperature rise: things like permafrost melting, fire tornados, and soon, large areas with wet bulb temperatures for extended periods of time that humans can't live in, any more than they can live under water. 

Oh, and it's not just humans, navel gazers, it's all the other plants and animals. 

Photosynthesis becomes less efficient at high temperatures, making the only at scale natural carbon sink less reliable. Aerosols may be increasing albedo, or lowering it, depending on the aerosol. Apparently, there's a lot of microplastic already in the air. Also: any geo-engineering without pumping up the carbon volume is kind of a pipe dream at this point.

Why anyone thinks any semblance of resilience and adaptability will be possible after around 2030 is a mystery to me. P.S.: hot wars are just about the most carboniferous activity people can participate in.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Geriatric candidates on the run!

 More NYT commentary, this time on the handwringing over Biden's age, which for some reason is never handwringing about Trump's already obvious mental decline.

Jhh Lowengard | Kingston, NY
In the past, former presidents and legislators stayed on the scene after leaving office, either by running for a different office or just being one of the smoky voices in the smoke filled room. You can actually see this in the non-governing power of Trump. Part of that power is that the GOP literally has no platform except what Trump says. What he seeks, on the record, is more time to grift, and possibly pardon himself and people who still are loyal to him, and to vengefully persecute his opponents.

Comparing Trump's mental acuity to Biden's is the real comparison, and in the race to get to the end of a sentence, Trump is clearly the loser.

But there's a non-zero possibility that neither of these oldsters will make it to election day 2024. This is what both parties should prepare for. The primaries are set up to emphasize differences between candidates, but the process of running should also clarify how there is continuity of political purpose between leaders and their possible successors.

There's even a possibility that climate disaster issues could finally step in to move aside issues driving politics today to issues like "how can we rebuild", "Where can we move", "How can we help others who have to relocate". Remember: 2023, the hottest year in recorded history, will likely be one of the coolest of the foreseeable future .

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Start by stopping carbon mining and consumption.

 My latest NYT comment, on using iron in the ocean as a geo engineering carbon capture solutions:

The idea here is that "We (tech fixers) alone can fix the Climate catastrophe" . Well, we can! Stop producing and using carbon emissions now, worldwide. We can do this in an orderly way, starting with stopping drilling, then stopping mining. Industries reliant on this will be shut down in a similarly orderly fashion, and paid off with money, which is a fiction, so we can make as much as necessary.

You can't geo-engineer out of an ever increasing supply of carbon, especially when the geo-engineering itself would necessarily itself be a huge source of carbon emissions. 

Shutting down fuels would be a tremendous hit to the economy and culture. But guess what? It would be cheaper than a 2+ degree C future, which is what we bought with all that fuel.

Do you have the budget to put the methane back in the permafrost and somehow regrow the glaciers and polar ice?

We're now at the state where small cities are wiped out in single weather events. When the frequency and scope of these events exceeds the means to recover from them, the time for any action will be taken up in emigration, fanciful and ineffective prepping, and faith-based solutions of dubious efficacy.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Forests aren't Our Friends...

[Reply to an article in the NYT: ]

 What forests aren't are a source of permission to continue spewing carbon in the atmosphere. For one thing, the amount to capture is still increasing every year. For another thing, the climate change itself is impeding the capacity for forests to do that sequestration, due to how that process responds to heat. For another thing, we're also either intentionally removing these natural carbons sinks en masse, or sitting by as they die of thirst, are eaten by bugs that aren't killed in winter anymore, burn, releasing even more sunk carbon into the air and water. 

Here's a depressing article to fill you in on some of this:

The right way to act is to do everything possible, and the most effective is to stop with oil/gas extraction, stop with subsidizing those extractions, and get off carbon addiction. If there's less to remove, removing it will be easier. 

We can do this work in an orderly way, shutting down carbon sources while compensating those who lose out on their carbon fueled lives, and relocating them as best we can, or we can let the climate decide for us, and take out ecosystems and civilizations without any human direction. 

"But this will be more expensive than any other previous world project!"  To this I say: we and 8 generations before us have incurred that debt, and we not only have to pay the interest in terms of positive feedback loops, but the massive principle.

Monday, July 31, 2023


 You'll be surprised how well the economy will work without burning carbon. 

We can have a gentle decarbonization, first by stopping exploration and opening new sources now, before they start. Then, by shutting down pipelines and refineries one by one, randomly. Removing fossil fuel subsidies, which are artificially depressing the fuel prices.  We can do this, and it needs to be done internationally.  As this happens, we can cut down consumption, find alternatives, not fast enough at first, but faster as the technologies mature. 

Or, we can let the true ruler of the earth, the climate, do it for us, more cruelly, more suddenly, more capriciously. Vulnerable populations will be hurt more at first, forcing migrations to the unwilling not-yet affected areas, but it's only a matter of time - a short time - before smugly secure places are also affected and also made uninhabitable. The lifeboats in this chaotic sea will be the communities that are sustainable - that pay their debt to the earth. But it will not have the flexibility of response that a controlled shutdown would allow. 

The collapse of non-human ecosystems and geological process like ocean steams, jets streams, glaciers, which underlie all economies, no matter which system, will collapse them. You can't claim that working to stop carbon pollution is too expensive. Its expense is pitifully small compared to the collapse of everything underlying value, worldwide.

We know of no processes that can pull the carbon out of the atmosphere as rapidly as we put it in, at scale. So we have to start by not making the problem worse. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Climate Trigger points

 The Collapse of AMOC is just one working ecological system that can quickly break down due to consequences of too much heat in the atmosphere and sea. We can relate to it because the Gulf Stream has been anomalously heating Northern Europe, where many of its populous cities are above the latitude of Montreal. Without the stream's movement, we can expect more effects, such as the decline in fish stocks, changes in hurricane development, sea level changes independent of the addition of melting land ice's fresh water.

Other predictable systems such as reliable monsoons, permafrost, and glaciation: changes in these can stress the natural world that needs to be predictable for us to exploit it in our current cultures. When to plant and what to plant? Will the birds and insects return to pollinate? Will the forests be there to stabilize the soil? 

A trigger point is where the process is unbalanced just enough to be a self-sustaining cascade, usually exponential in nature. A bit of the energy released contributes to the energy that is doing the releasing.  Humans, who are fairly innumerate to begin with, have a hard time understanding processes with exponential velocities. When we drop rocks off a cliff, that's 32 feet per second squared, but we're rarely high enough or in a place to observe its motion over a period of more than a few seconds. It's just not in our experience. 

The feedback loops we have here not only feed the process releasing the energy, but any other nearby process that by itself would take more energy to reach that tipping point. They are not isolated.

The amount of CO2 in the air already is a huge ecological debt. This is the debt that matters. Innumeracy is keeping decision makers from measuring the cost of shutdowns, conversions and climate refugee migration against the cost of the shutdown of natural processes that were assumed to be free throughout the development of human cultures. Cultures that value property rights - the climate does not value property rights. Cultures that rely on natural growth cycles, natural animal migrations, tide heights, snowpack growth and melting - these cycles will change. Cultures relying on the effect of polar ice on sea salinity and the jet stream - we can't change these but the climate can. 

We have to start by not increasing the debt.  For things we directly control, that means literally not burning carbon emitters to run machinery, or as a source of heat, not removing carbon sinks like forests and oceans. The trouble there is that forests are worse carbon sinks the hotter it gets, and the oceans already have absorbed much of the new CO2 and can't keep up. 

You can watch the interplay of source and sink in the measurements of Co2 from Mauna Loa (and Maunakea while Mauna Loa is erupting). When the global north, which has the most forestry, is growing, the amount of CO2 goes down. When it's more idle, the amount goes back up. But the net addition of carbon outside this cycle pushes the next peak higher than the year before. ]

But it does prove that there is a natural process that takes carbon out of the air. As long as those plants don't burn, that carbon can be added to the soil. Can a similar process be optimized and scaled? Can the process that does it actually be carbon neutral or negative? Unfortunately, it's a tech fix, which means it won't happen  unless someone makes money.