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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Self driving cars



Are we really sure that we want self driving cars.  In fact, are we sure we want a car that has any connection to the Internet.  There are some pretty strong arguments against both self driving cars and against cars which are connected to the Internet (so that software updates can automatically be fed into the car computer).

Just recently there have been some pretty serious hacks.  The NHS (National Heath service of the UK) was taken down and here in New Zealand we just had a program on our National Radio about the hacking of electrical power line companies.  You would have thought that if there were systems with the very best of protection, it would be these.  Perhaps they did have excellent protection but were hacked anyway.

Imagine the chaos if we had even 10% of our cars connected to the Internet when someone managed to hack the system.

Then there is the secret servicees of the United Staes and the so called 5 Eyes.  In America it is illegal for these institutions to spy on American citizens but they do it anyway.  The also hoover up every phone call and e-mail from the rest of the world.  Even having a car which is connected to the internet, never mind self driving, gives these institutions yet another window into the private life of all of us.  And don't give me the argument that if you are not doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear.  That arument is so discredited that it doesn't even justify wasting a paragraph explaining the its falacy.


Suppose, for the sake of the argument the car company has developed a new software program for the electric car I am driving.  No problem.  I will go to my home computer, download the upgrade on to a flash drive, take it to my car and plug it in to the flash drive socket provided.  Besides, I may want to wait a year to let the early adapters test it out before installing it.  The computer world if rife with tales of new computer programs that don't work.

Suppose I need navigation.  I will simply take my cell phone and put it on the Velcro patch on the dash board.
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As for self driving, let me ink out a scenario for you.
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You have a daughter - the apple of your eye.  You insisted that she learn to drive on a gear shift car since you are a little old fashion and value the old skills.  However since she got her license, she has never driven.  You gave her a self driving car for her birthday and she loves it.  Today she is off to a show in the next town with her boyfriend.  ETA 30 minutes.  What do you think she is doing for that half hour.  

She is snogging in the back seat with her boyfriend going at highway speed  when some sort of computer glitch or hack demands that she take the wheel and manage th brakes and accelerator.  You fill in the rest.

I have a strong feeling that an electric car manufacturer who advertises that his cars are not self driving and have no connection to the Internet would have a strong selling point.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The folly of GM crops

I'm not going to go into various esoteric subjects such as the chance of human created genes jumping to other unrelated species or the chance of wiping out whole species which we consider pests but who's function in their ecology we don't fully understand (possible with CRISPR).  This blog looks at the folly of past agricultural advances and the harm they have caused and hence the folly of increasing food production even more.

Despite the propaganda of the large companies promoting GM crops, their aim is not to relieve human suffering and provide food for the starving masses. (surprise surprise)  It turns out that we already are producing enough food to feed everyone in the world quite adequately.  Their aim is to accumulate more of the wealth of the world to themselves and is just one more manifestation of the growing wealth inequality that we see everywhere.

 As they accumulate more of the world's wealth, the very people they say they are working for become poorer and less able to afford to feed themselves. So what are the down sides of producing more food.

Malthus, the much maligned, stated that populations increases exponentially; ie 1,2,4,8,16 ......, while food production increases arithmetically; ie 1,2,3,4,5 ...... In reality, populations such as humans which lack predators are limited by starvation. A possibly more useful way of stating the principle, with apologies to Parkinson is that Population expands to use up any advance in food production*.

Richard Dawkins on P391 of his excellent book The Greatest Show on Earth stated it succinctly and I quote.  "If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored."  One would hope that humans who, at least individually, show a modicum of foresight might learn to show collective foresight.

Malthus didn't count on various technical advances we would make in food production ever since we left the hunter gatherer life style but was completely correct. Each increase in food production has been used up by population increase. The recent, much vaunted green revolution which started around the 1960's was the latest of such jumps in food production and gave India and some other countries, a few decades without starvation. A recent estimate is that there are now 700m more people on earth due to this latest green revolution.Link
So with a few delays, Malthus has proven to be completely correct.

What he didn't know is how our knowledge of contraception would advance. It has often been observed that when populations reach a fairly high level of economic well being, birth rate falls. Everyone is mystified by this and explains that women are delaying having babies as they pursue a career; people are not having any children so that they can enjoy the fruits of their labor and so forth. 

No argument there but how do you think they are avoiding having children. Abstinence??? I don't think so!! Abstinence went out of fashion more than half a century ago. One of the reasons for not having children (not often stated) is so you can enjoy non-abstinence uninterrupted. The simple fact of the matter is that with a certain level of economic development, contraception becomes affordable. 

The proof of this is a number of countries which have made contraception affordable before they achieved a western level of development. They did it by subsidizing contraception and lo and behold their birth rate fell. Of course, with birth rate under control, per capita economic development is much more likely. There are less mouths to eat up  advances in productivity.

While we are at it, lets look at the most recent  green revolutions that began in the 60's. The Yield of a number of grain crops was greatly increased. Some reports say production was tripled. This production was achieved by careful selective breeding but the new varieties only fulfilled their potential with irrigation, fertilizer, herbicides and  insecticides. Despite being free of starvation for a number of decades. the change was not an unmitigated success. Part of the dark side has been:

   a) mining of the water table to provide water for the new, highly productive varieties, lowering it disastrously, notably in China and India,
   b) accessing deeper layers of water which are contaminated with arsenic, notably in Bangladesh and parts of India,
   c) Pesticide pollution of aquifers, which along with arsenic contamination has led to a greatly increased incidence of cancer, especially in Bangladesh and parts of India
   d) salination of soils, rendering them unfit for agriculture.
   e) more land in production pushing nature and her free provision of food, fuel, fiber, medicine waste disposal and clean water further into a corner*.

*(you would have thought that land would have been taken out of production due to higher yields.- go figure)

   f) production of greatly increased grain yield but with less vitamins and minerals per kg of grain than in traditional varieties resulting in nutrient malnutrition,
   g) huge loss of a genetic diversity as locals switched to the new varieties, abandoning their traditional varieties.
   h) the loss of small farms to large land owners as the peasants borrowed to buy fertilizer etc., got into debt and defaulted on their loans.
   i) an increase in population of about 700,000,000 mouths that are only with us because of this most recent green revolution.

We really have got to the point of diminishing returns. Every advance in agriculture production makes us poorer and poorer. It makes us poorer by:

*decreasing the availability of food, fuel, fiber, clean water and clean air that we obtain gratis from nature as more land is put into agriculture for profit.
*decreasing the ability of nature to process our wastes safely
*decreasing the variety of foods available to us as areas which once grew fruit and vegetables are given over to the more profitable growing of grain crops for cash.
*reducing the space we have to live in as we are crowded by more and more people.
* facilitating diseases of crowding that we would otherwise not have had and increasing the possibility that a pandemic will be much more severe.
* pushing us closer to a disastrous collapse in our Gia support system as we test the theory of sudden climate change with gay abandon.

There is talk now of the need for a second (actually more like the 100th) green revolution, this one based on splicing new genes into varieties of grain. This will probably work and will further increase production. As has happened since agriculture began, population will increase until the new advances in production are used up. In the mean time all those extra people will further degrade the natural environment that we depend on for our existence.

If you want to see the other likely consequences, go back and read what resulted from the 60's green revolution.

Note: It has been reported that a number of genetically changed plants caused organ failure when fed to rats.

Extra agricultural production only pushes us closer to the brink. The last thing you want when you are standing at the edge of a cliff is a great leap forward.

As was mentioned above, since the 60's it has been noted that when a country achieves a certain level of prosperity, birth rate falls. This is a modern phenomenon. It didn't happen anywhere in Europe before the last century. Britain's birth rate remained high all through the industrial revolution with well off Brits having as many children as their poorer cousins. Think back to your grandfather and great grandfather's family. How many children did each of your ancestors have as far back as you can trace. The difference, as previously mentioned,  in the 'modern era' is contraception.

Contraception has been available at least from Roman times, but it only became truly effective when it was modernized and put into the hands of women. Both the pill and the effective IUD (as opposed to previous less than adequate models) only became practical from about 1960 onward and they have had a huge effect in countries where they are affordable either because the economic level of the population makes them so or because the government has subsidized them.  In both cases, birth rate has fallen precipitously. Ignoring immigration, which is another story, most European countries have decreasing populations. What a success - and they are fighting against it tooth and nail. That is also another story.

I lived in South Africa for 15 years, much of the time in the homeland of Gazankulu.  Despite an educational level of around grade 2 amongst many of the women, they would come into the clinic for their 3month jab to keep them from getting pregnant.  There is a vast difference between not having a formal education and being stupid.  These women were clever and fully realized the advantages of having less children.  Their men were not so smart.  They would have beaten the women if they knew what was happening.

We must learn to live in our respective countries with a stable and then a reducing population. This , of course will result in a population in which the age distribution curve is heavily skewed toward older people. We have to work out ways to live and live well in such a society. For far too long we have been living in a pyramid scheme in which each generation had to be larger than the previous one. 

This was necessary so that there were enough young people to fill the more menial jobs before they rose up to higher levels.  It was also necessary in order to have enough working people to provide the pensions of the retired. This, quite frankly, is a stupid system.  The pension contributions of the working public should go into buying up the means of production.  Pensions are then paid  from the dividends from these companies and even from selling the shares to presently working people.  The elderly become a boon rather than a drain on the economy as they spend their pensions.  

Our system can't go on.  We must stop importing so-called cheap labor to fill the positions of the children we are not having. In the long term, cheap labor is very expensive.

Note that people are now worried about robots taking over our jobs.  Surly these two phenomenon fit together beautifully.  We have less jobs available and less young people to fill the positions.  The critical factor is taxing fairly the companies who are producing their goods by automation instead of by people.  Too many large corporations now get away with paying little if any tax.  This tax money then goes to the unemployed, whether young or pensioners.  The companies should also face up to reality.  If people have no money they can't buy the goods they produce by automation.  It is in their interests to have money in the pockets of the people.


Pyramid schemes collapse and the mini collapse we are going through at present (2008ff) is nothing compared to what is to come if we keep increasing agricultural production rather than concentrating on reducing population. If we continue this way, we will soon have an answer to the question of who is correct regarding sudden climate change. If the climate change sceptics are wrong, we may very soon achieve the lovelock number.


* Starvation killed an estimated 50m Chinese over the 19th century, 20m Indians in the latter half, 1m Irish between 1845 and 1852, 1/3 of the population of Ethiopia from 1888 and 1892 and 3m in Bengal in 1943. Imagine the effect of the failure of the wheat and rice crop for just one year due to sudden climate change or even from a mega volcano one spring. (link)

** If you double your population or your GDP, you pretty well double your use of water, wood and minerals, double your production of pollution and garbage and double the area of land you cover in buildings.  You continue to eat into unoccupied land, you eliminate all the benefits unoccupied land brings to the human population for free. Below is a table of how long it takes to double all of the above as a function of yearly GDP growth rate. You can calculate it for yourself with a high-school calculator if you put in (for 3% growth rate, for instance) log 2/log1.03.  The '2' is a doubling time, 1.03 is the interest (growth rate).

Annual growth and number of year to double the economy

1%
70 years

2% 35 years
3% 23 years
4% 18 years
5% 14 years

How many countries in the world do you know that can find twice the water, wood, minerals and produce twice the pollution and garbage and still have any quality of life.  The only two I  can think of off hand are Canada and New Zealand.  We don't want to live like this.
Link

Monday, May 8, 2017

Greening the desert

If you could set up a whole bunch of desalination plants, you could pump the water on to a desert somewhere and over time it would green and you would establish a fresh water aquifer.  It wouldn't work.  No one is going to go to that expense for some future nice-to-have ecological result.  No, you need a way of doing it, that in the mean time generates revenue.  Fortunately such a way exists already.

Some time ago I wrote a blog on Sea Water Greenhouses.  You can see it here.

Image result for image sea water greenhouse
Sea water greenhouse can be at any scale.  Note the solar panels powering the pumps and fan.


To recap briefly, you set up a tunnel house with it's long axis parallel to the prevailing wind.  Note that sea water greenhouses will only work if the humidity is low.  You close the upwind end of the tunnel house with a screen made of some wettable material such as excelsior or some types of cardboard such that the wind can blow through this end of the greenhouse.  The downwind end of the Greenhouse has a Solar powered DC fan sucking the air out of the greenhouse and a condenser to condense the moisture out of the air stream.  You dribble your sea water down the screen at the upwind end and collect it in a trough.  You will find it is amazingly cold.  You pipe this water to the condenser at the downwind end in a lagged (insulated) pipe and it will condense out fresh water from the air passing the condenser.  You collect and use this fresh water to irrigate your plants.  You pipe the sea water back to the upwind area and dribble it down the excelsior screen again. Somewhere in this return system is a bleed off that you can adjust so that the water never gets too salty.  This brine is piped back to the sea.

There are many ways to run the agricultural side of such a green house but here I am talking about an open system in which the plants grow in soil on to which you drip the fresh water.  You don't use a closed hydroponic system. The reason is simple.  You want the excess water to flow into the soil and over time create a fresh water, water-table. All by themselves, plants will start to grow around the farm where none grew before.  As more and more of these salt water greenhouses are set up, more and more fresh water will flow into the ground.  You can plant trees and you are on your way to transforming the desert.

The key is in having a farming enterprise that is profitable.

Of course, you may have some other source of water.  There may be, for instance, a salt water aquifer you can tap far from the sea.  No problem and perhaps an extra opportunity.  Not all such aquifers are simply condensed sea water.  They may have valuable minerals in them.  For instance some brines are rich in Lithium, some in Borax.  Whatever the composition of your sub surface salt water, you can let the overflow brine go into lined ponds to evaporate and precipitate out whatever salts are in the water. In the mean time the lighter fresh water going into the soil from your tunnel houses will float over top of the salty aquifer just as occurs in coral atoll islands. The salty aquifer will be sucked down over time as you utilize it and be replaced with fresh water.

Incidentally, this will work as a remediation system in areas where salination has ruined the soil.  Often there is salty sub surface water which can be used and replaced by the fresh water your tunnel houses produce.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Communism and Capitalism

There ain't nothing wrong with either Communism or Capitalism and people that harp on about them are either ignorant or are trying to misdirect your attention from the real problems with both systems.

America uses Communism as their boogy man and communist countries do the same with Capitalism.  Strange in the case of America since her favorite ally is Israel.     Israel is the only country I know of that has had actual Communism.  Their communes are called Kibbutzim (plural of Kibbutz) and were truly communistic organizations.  They provide a good case study of real communism.

Kibbutsim were not the  type of  commune we are more familiar with, with a charismatic religious leader such as with the many communes that self destruct.  With the religious sort of commune, the charismatic leader takes a leaf out of the book of many countries and uses the fear of 'others' to hold his commune together.  Look how America does this with the fear of communism and now her new boogy man, Terrorism.  In the communes we are more familiar with, people get more and more paranoid, often collect weapons and build walls around their commune.  Besides, the charismatic leader, before long, feels that every attractive female in the group should be his 'hand maiden' and this sows discontent. Some of these communes go so far as to commit suicide to bring on the apocalypses.

No, the Israeli Kibutz is run on democratic principles.  In the Kibutz are  a number of different enterprises.  Often they have fish ponds, a dairy, cotton fields, greenhouses for cut flowers and usually a factory producing, say, socks or plastic items.  The leaders of these enterprises are chosen from the group according to their ability and typically hold that position for 3 years.  Then they rotate to another sector in the kibutz, or go to university,or spend some years in the army or are voted to be the lea-son to the general kibutz movement.  One of their members is often chosen to be the head of the Kibutz (also, typically for 3 years).  So what keeps them motivated.

They all get exactly the same allowance to buy things in the Kibutz store, all wear the same clothes, all live in the same standard of accommodation
 and so forth.  Hard to believe, coming from our western societies where money is the measure of all things but they are motivated by their position in the community.  Someone who runs the dairy farm and runs it well is looked up to by all the member of the commune and  this, plus the satisfaction of doing a good job that helps his fellow members makes him always strive to do his job well.

I must mention here that the classic Kibutz system has broken down in Israel but for reasons that have nothing to do with the above.  That might be the subject of a future blog.

Two lessons we should take from the Kibbutz.  One it is democratic and two it recognizes the rule of law.  Everyone has a say at the regular meetings where the policy of the Kibutz is hammered out and no one is above the law. Kibbutzim are fair and equitable and transparent.   They also seem to work best in societies of up to about 250 individuals.  When they get too big, the effect of everyone knowing everyone else tends to weaken.  Incidentally, Kibbutzim are socialistic or if you like communistic inside but capitalistic in their relation with each other, the rest of Israel and the outside world.

So what is wrong with what we call communism.  We associate Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin with communism.  You may not realize it but when Communism began, Americans were flocking to join communist and socialist organizations and unions in America.  Workers were being treated even worse then than today and this was their way of joining together to get a fair deal.  The bosses hated this and went to extremes to stop these movements*.  No way did they want to pay a fair wage for a fair days work.  Then in Russia, Stalin co-opted the movement.

* They used hired goons, then the national guard and in some cases the army.

When the abuses Stalin perpetuated on his own people became known, people left communist organizations almost as fast as they had joined.  His abuses had nothing to do with Communism as such.  He was a ruthless dictator who stifled any spark of Democracy and the rule of law and abused his own people.  To give him credit where a small amount of credit is due, he had to prepare his country to withstand the aggression of Germany and in a new democracy without established mechanisms, he might well,  not have succeeded.

So what is wrong with Capitalism.  Nothing at all.  The problem is not with Capitalism as such but with the destruction of democracy by the leaders who want power and the uneven application of the rule of law. Being a Capitalist or a Communist has nothing to do with democracy or the rule of law.  You can have democracy and the rule of law in both system or no democracy and disdain of the rule of law in both systems.

Look at yourself as a citizen of a so called democracy.  What are you not allowed to do.  You can't steal, obtain financial benefit by false pretenses.  You can't throw your pollution or garbage on your neighbors land or your commons.  You can't bear false witness.  You can't cause the death of other by omission or commission and so forth.  This is all as it should be..... but the law is not applied equally.

Large companies and rich individuals get away with all of these and it takes a huge effort to bring them to justice.  It happens but it is notable in its rarity when a case succeeds against a big corporation or a rich person who is abusing his position.  Corporations and the rich can afford high power lawyers who can find  loop holes in the law to get them out of trouble when an ordinary citizen would be sent to jail for the same crime.

Look at the recent election in America.  America has the finest founding document, (The Constitution), in the world.  The core of this document is that the government is by and for the people.  Chuck out all the rest and leave only this phrase and it would still be the finest founding document in the world.  Look what happened in the DNC (the Democratic National Convention - the body that chooses who their candidate will be in the presidential election).  Debbie Wasserman Shultz in cahoots with Hillary did everything they could to make Hillary the candidate and succeeded despite the fact that Bernie was clearly the peoples choice.  (remember that part about for and by the people).  Then Obama, who is a constitutional lawyer and who swore to uphold the Constitution, came out for Hillary (by and for???).  Then Warren followed suit.  These people only pay lip service to the Constitution, the top law document of the United States.  I doubt if they even understand the concept.

They remind me of some of my religious friends.  They extol the bible but only follow the parts that fit with their world view or even more cynically, the parts that give them some sort of advantage. Actually, it is lucky, to some extent, that they do pick and choose.   Imagine what trouble you would be in if you followed the bible literally and started to stone your neighbor as he cut the lawn on Sunday.  On that line, I find it amazing that the religions right is at the forefront of mining, logging fishing, drilling in parks and in short exploiting nature to the n'th degree with no regard for sustainability while the atheistic left wants to preserve our world in some sort of reasonable shape for their descendants.  Go figure.

Anyway back to the topic.  The problem is not with Communism or Capitalism or any other ism you care to site.  The problem is whether the rule of law is applied equally and fairly and whether or not you have a democracy which is truly by and for the people.  Both can exist in any ism or be absent.  In America Democracy and the rule of law are disappearing at a rapid rate if they ever even actually existed.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Bottled Water

We are in the middle of a bit of a stramash in New Zealand regarding bottled water.  Some folks are all a twitter (jealous?) of companies which are bottling this natural resource and selling it overseas.  I sort of see where the nay-sayers are coming from.  Bottling water is a license to print money.  What the complainers want to do is to put a price per liter on the water these companies use but this is the thin edge of the wedge.  If you charge these folks, why not other users such as industries and agriculture for their water use.  This would be a complete can of worms for an agricultural export country such as New Zealand.

Just to put things in perspective, New Zealand is not a desert.  We have some dryish places like the East Coast of South Island where I live but even here we have above 500mm per year. The West coast of South Island, is quite literally a temperate rain forest.

 

So let's first look at how much water  various industries use.  For bottled water each bottled liter uses 1.39liters of water, for soda, 2.02, for beer 4, for wine 4.74 and for hard liquor, 34.55 liters.  Note that this is only for the processing.  It doesn't include, for instance, the water needed to grow grapes or hops or the water to produce the bottles .  The table below gives some of the agricultural figures.

Typical values for the volume of water required to produce common foodstuffs

Click heading to sort table. Download this data
Foodstuff
Quantity
Water consumption, litres
Chocolate 1 kg 17,196
Beef 1 kg 15,415
Sheep Meat 1 kg 10,412
Pork 1 kg 5,988
Butter 1 kg 5,553
Chicken meat 1 kg 4,325
Cheese 1 kg 3,178
Olives 1 kg 3,025
Rice 1 kg 2,497
Cotton 1 @ 250g 2,495
Pasta (dry) 1 kg 1,849
Bread 1 kg 1,608
Pizza 1 unit 1,239
Apple 1 kg 822


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Interglacials, Phosphine and Diphosphane

As usual in my blogs, this theory is a bit of speculation; a hypothesis or if you like brainstorming so read it as such.  

First let's get the terminology right.  We are in the middle of an ice age which started some 2.5million years ago. It is called the pleistocene although some define the Plistocene as having started 1.8m years ago.   Within this ice age have been approximately 30 glacials and an equal number of interglacials.  At present we are in the Holocene interglacial and the previous one, centered about 125,000 years ago, was the Eemian (given different names by various scientists).  The Holocene Interglacial started about 20,000 years ago by definition, at the peak of the recent glacial but melting really got underway about 11,500 years ago.

Not to get too precious about this but we have to decide what words we are going to use for which periods. It is confusing to the layman and doesn't aid in informing the general public.  Above is the way I learned it but any terminology would be fine with me as long as we all agree on what we mean when we say 'ice age".  If the term Ice Age is to be used for the glaciation between the Eemian and the Holocene, then we have to have a new term for the 2.5m year period of warm and cold we have been experiencing.

What is problematic, is to explain is why Carbon dioxide rises steeply as the ice melts and oddly enough seems to follow the ice melting rather than leading it.  The most accepted theory today has to do with the ocean circulation powered by the production of heavy, cold salty water at both ends of the earth and the relationship between the temperature of the surface of the sea and the amount and speed it can take up Carbon dioxide (or release it) from/to the atmosphere.  The basic physics is pretty simple and undeniable.  Cold water can hold more Carbon dioxide than warmer water.  The chain of cause and effect after this is a tad more tenuous.

The following hypothesis in no way negates the ocean current/water-temperature theory.  It is just  suggesting another source of Carbon dioxide as the ice melts.

Regardless of the source, what seems to happen is that as the ice begins to melt, Carbon dioxide rises a little later and  the released Carbon dioxide then accelerates the melt etc. etc.

Previously, I  hypothesized that over the approximately 100,000 years that ice covered large parts of the continents, a huge amount of methane clathrate would have accumulated under the ice.  Methane clathrate forms when methane is in contact with water under a pressure equivalent to about 300m of water or more.  The cooler the temperature the less pressure is needed but under sufficient pressure a clathrate can exist even up to 30 degrees C.  This higher temperature clathrate is not really relevant to our discussion since the bottom of deep ice sheets tends to be around zero degrees C so clathrates will begin to form when the ice reaches, say 400m or so.  The extra depth is necessary since the top 70m or so of the ice tends to be firn (porous snow which is turning into ice due to the weight of snow above it) which is lighter that ice.  All above figures are approximate.

Incidentally, there is also a carbon dioxide clathrate so any Carbon dioxide coming out of the ground to meet the bottom of a deep glacier would likely form a clathrate as well.  The formula for Carbon dioxide clathrate is thought to be CO2.6H2O*

* In a Carbon dioxide saturated clathrate, there is a sixth of a mole (gram molecular weight) of Carbon dioxide for every mole of water.  So a mole of water (18g) could contain 7.3g of carbon dioxide(a sixth of 44g)  In a liter of saturated CO2 clathrate you would have 407g of CO2.  This is 9.26 moles of Carbon dioxide.  Since one mole of any gas occupies 22.4liters at STP, then one liter of methane clathrate at STP would release 207 liters of the gas if it disintegrated.  Pretty amazing, no? The formula for saturated methane hydrate is CH 4 · 5.7H 2O.  Work out what volume of methane could be released from one kg of water ice saturated methane  to form methane hydrate.

 
The source of the methane includes organic material buried by the ice, which when deprived of oxygen decays by methanogenesis.  Other sources are deposits of coal, oil, tar sands, natural gas and shales.  Since an accumulation of ice tends to push down the land  approximately a third of the height of the ice (ie a km of ice will depress the land a third of a km) a sort of natural fracking may occur.  In other words,  cracks could well be opened up which would release gas that had been capped by layers of impermeable rock. In addition there are methane seeps all around the world which would create clathrates under ice without any need to invoke the cracking of the earth under the weight of ice.

I'm not sure what the composition of "swamp gas" is but when you operate a biogas generator, the composition of the gas is approximately 70% methane and 30% Carbon dioxide.  If this is similar for organic material breaking down under an ice sheet then both CH4 and CO2 clathrate would accumulate.

I also hypothesized that since the ice at the height of a glacial would be pushing  into areas too warm for ice to form, it would only need a nudge from the Milankovitch cycle to start the melt.  If sufficient melting occurred then enough  methane would be released to produce a negative feed back and accelerate the process.  Hence the transition into an interglacial.

Note that the greater the ice sheet, the more unstable which may explain why every Milankovitch nudge didn't cause an interglacial in the latter half of the present ice age. Apparently it was necessary for the ice sheet to be really big and hence really unstable.

When I suggested the methane theory to a number of scientists, they assured me that such an outpouring of the very powerful greenhouse gas, methane, would appear in the ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica.  Further they said that there is no evidence that methane converts to Carbon dioxide within ice bubbles.  When the analysis was done and no methane signature was found.  I argued that methane has a half life of about 7 years and so would disappear rather rapidly and the Firn layer is some 70m deep and so gas exchange would occur through this layer, softening the edges of the signature.  I was assured that there still would be a methane signature and none was found.

So,,, what if the methane ignited as it was released from under the ice.  One could suggest lightening as an igniter but this seems rather unlikely and once the methane is sufficiently diluted in the air, it is no longer ignitable.  Methane will ignite when it is between 5 and 15 percent of the air.  Of course pure methane will ignite at the edges where it is mixing with the air, just like happens in your gas hob.   If it came out in sufficient quantities and with sufficient velocity, it would produce its own mini lightening and ignite but this too seems to be somewhat far fetched to explain the ignition of all this methane from all sources.

No, the methane, if it is ignited and thus is responsible for the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, it has to be ignited as it enters the air before it has been diluted too much to burn and it needs a source of ignition that it carries with it.

Then I remembered phosphine (PH3)  It is also produced by the rotting of organic material in swamps along with diphosphane (P2H4).  Methane is the main component of swamp gas.  These two phosphorous compounds ignite on contact with the air and would ignite the methane.   This phenomenon is observed around the world in swampy areas. A common name for this in English is Will o' the Wisps.

From Wikipedia (Sorry, links don't work.  They work in the original article)
In modern science, it is generally accepted that most ignis fatuus are caused by the oxidation of phosphine (PH3), diphosphane (P2H4), and methane (CH4). These compounds, produced by organic decay, can cause photon emissions. Since phosphine and diphosphane mixtures spontaneously ignite on contact with the oxygen in air, only small quantities of it would be needed to ignite the much more abundant methane to create ephemeral fires.[32] Furthermore, phosphine produces phosphorus pentoxide as a by-product, which forms phosphoric acid upon contact with water vapor. This might explain the "viscous moisture" described by Blesson.

All this is great but leaves a huge number of questions unanswered.  Since two ice sheets are in the process of disintegrating at present (West Antarctic and Greenland) we may see evidence for or against this hypothesis as the ice melts.

Questions:
1/ Are there indeed large amounts of methane (and Carbon dioxide) stored under the ice sheets as  clathrates.

2/ Do these deposits contain phosphine and diphosphane.

3/  Has anyone observed a  Methane coming from under an ice sheet, say, when a river appears from under the ice and which therefore exposes part of the bottom of the ice sheet to atmospheric pressure. (low pressure allows clathrates to break down)

4/  Has anyone ever observed the spontaneous ignition  of methane (other than above swamps where it regularly occurs).  Note that in daylight, a methane flame is almost invisible.

5/  If there is phosphine and diphosphane in such methane deposits, what happens to it as methane plumes rise through ocean water.  Is it scrubbed out or does it rise with the methane.  The composition of the gas from the ocean bottom as it leaves the water and enters the air could be quite different from an outpouring of gas on land. For instance, if a mixture of methane and Carbon dioxide bubbles were rising through a column of water, likely the Carbon dioxide would be scrubbed out.  It would, though, show up as a decreased alkalinity of the surrounding sea water.  I don't know what the relationship is between water and phosphine and diphospane.

To increase the credibility of the above hypothesis for the source of at least some of the carbon dioxide that is seen in the atmosphere as the ice sheets melt, we would have to see a similar phenomenon with the presently disintegrating ice sheets.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Freezing the Arctic with Wind Turbines

I have just read the most abysmally stupid idea for combating climate change.  Some 'professor' proposes to put some 10 million wind pumps all over the arctic ocean at a cost of trillions of dollars to pump sea water onto the ice where it will freeze and thicken the ice.

Leaving aside the difficulty of building and maintaining anything which is floating amongst the ship crushing ice flows in the Arctic, how about putting all these wind turbines on land and off shore all over the world to generate electricity and replace fossil fuel use.  Use some of these trillions for energy storage systems as well and promote electric cars.  Attack the source of the problem, not the symptoms.

Besides, when surface sea water freezes naturally, it produces fresh water ice.  The salt is rejected, forms brine which sinks to the bottom of the ocean.  As heat conducts through the ice into the atmosphere, more fresh water ice is frozen to the bottom of the existing ice and more brine is produced.  This fresh water ice is strong and melts...well at the freezing point of ice.

If you pump sea water on to the ice where it freezes, it will be full of salt.  That slushy weak ice will melt out rapidly when spring comes and will likely melt out the underlying fresh water ice just like when you put salt on an icy sidewalk.

Add to that, even if this hair brained idea did work, what would the effect be when we are up to 500 or 600 ppm CO2 and the funds ran out at the next economic crisis (none of the fundamentals were changed by the Obama presidency) and the first item cut from the budget is maintaining all these wind pumps in one of the harshest environments in the world.

This whole idea reminds me of the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff type policy that we use with our refugees.  Instead of eliminating the source of the refugees, we spend huge amounts of money trying to care for them.  They don't want to be in our strange (to them) land.  They want to be in their homes amongst their friends.

To stop the creation of refugees, the next time someone decides to start a completely unjustified war in someone else's country,  the whole world should put full sanctions on them.  Yes America and the UK, I am talking about you.

Even worse, when you refuse to come to the party and reduce your carbon pollution, once again sanctions should be imposed until you wake up.  Here I am only addressing the US.  The UK is making a pretty reasonable fist of reducing their carbon emissions.

This ridiculous idea of trying to artificially create more ice is  philosophically, practically and scientifically fought.  Get real and address the cause.  Use these trillions to get us free from fossil fuels.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Australian Air Conditioning

This blog was triggered by an item on our NZ National Radio when they crossed to Kerry-Anne Walsh in Australia.  She reported that there is a heat wave in Aus with temperatures reaching and even exceeding 45C.  At the same time, Kerry-Ann reported that the Ausi electrical generation network can't cope with the load so they are instituting rolling load shedding* just when the people most need their air conditioning.

*Power grids are set up to shut down sectors when demand exceeds the power they can generate. Not pleasant if you are in the sacrificed sector when the temperatures are lethally hot and your air conditioner no longer works.

This is not just a matter of convenience or comfort.  When the wet-bulb* temperature rises above about 33C, a human can't cool off any more and such temperatures become fatal.

* A wet bulb temperature is a combination of temperature and humidity.  At 100% humidity and a temperature of 33C, you can no longer cool the body by sweating or radiation.  As the air gets drier and drier, you can tolerate higher temperatures because your sweating mechanism becomes more effective.  It has been suggested that with Climate Change, areas of the earth will become uninhabitable unless the people have air conditioning.  

Kerry-Anne also mentioned that part of the problem is the emphasis in Aus on Wind power as part of the grid generation and when you depend on wind, it doesn't always blow when you need it most.  ie - during one of these heat waves.  This got me to thinking.  Let me make a side step for a moment.

When I lived in Gazankulu in South Africa, I set up a fish farm  for one of the local sub tribes.  It was fed water from a near by lake and the water was pumped by a MonoPump powered by an array of solar panels.  A mono pump is a positive displacement pump* so if it turns a little it pumps a little water and if it turns a lot it pumps a lot.  (unlike centrifugal pumps that need full speed to pump their water).  It had a DC motor. DC motors can be set up to turn in proportion to the amount of power they receive.  Note that AC motors must have their full power or they tend to burn out.

*A piston pump is one example of a positive displacement pump.  It's output is proportional to the number of rotations it makes.  Centrifugal pumps which are the ones most used and which are powered by Alternating Current (AC) must operate at their rated speed to be effective. The mono pump mentioned above has a staneless steel shaped rod rotating within a rubber sheath and the way it is configured results in a positive displacement pump.

When the sun came up in the morning and touched the panels the pump started to operate slowly and as the sun rose, it pumped more and more.  Why do I mention this.

The two things you have to take from this story is that with suitable electronics, the rpm of a DC motor is in proportion to the amount of power you feed it and a positive displacement pump will pump in proportion to it's rate of rotation. 

Back to the air conditioning.

An air conditioner, in essence,  is nothing more than a gas pump and two fans.  Let me divert again and explain a touch of physics.  I hope no physicist are reading this.  They would have a conniption fit at my explanation.  I apologize right at the beginning but if you are not into physics, the 'story' makes more sense this way.

When you compress a gas as you squeeze it, it heats up and if you have somewhere cooler than the gas, the heat will flow to this cooler location.  Think of it as if you are squeezing the heat out of the gas.  If you compress it more and more, at some point it will condense into a liquid and a lot of heat will be squeezed out as the molecules come much closer together in the liquid.  When you let off the pressure and let the liquid evaporate, and in addition, let the resulting gas expand, it cools and can absorb heat from its environment.  This is an air conditioner.

You compress the gas even to the point that it liquefies and run it through a radiator outside the house with a fan blowing outside air across the radiator.   You then pipe the liquid into the house  and let it evaporate and expand in a second radiator with a fan blowing across it. The expanded gas cools and, of course cools the air which is being blown across it.  The pump takes the gas and once more compresses it.  Now let's pull this together.

All you need is a few solar panels on your roof pointing North*.  They are connected directly to an air conditioner with  3 DC motors (to power the gas compressor and the two fans).

I live in the southern hemisphere

For the most part, it is hot when the sun shines.  Yes I know there are some hot cloudy days but at a 95%+ level, Sunny = Hot.  So now you have an air conditioner that works harder and harder the higher the sun is both on a daily and a seasonal basis.  You can even slant the panels a little toward the West to take care of the continuing heating of the air even after the sun has reached it's zenith. 

Best of all you are not putting extra strain on the grid when it is under its greatest strain. and you are independent of 'The Man".  You take care of your own air conditioning with zero operating costs and ever reducing capital costs as solar panels become less and less expensive.

Have a well insulated house and you can forget about your air conditioning.  It works automatically and works hardest when you most need it.

Incidentally, most air conditioners can work in reverse.  That is to say, heating the house.  If you are in the central plains of America where there are lots of sunny days in the winter but it is very very cold, you can switch your air conditioner to heating mode.  It won't work very well on cloudy days but you will have to cut less wood to get you through the winter.  If you are all ecological, you could say with some justification, that you leave the trees alone to absorb more carbon dioxide from the air instead of burning them.

Apropos, no one would ever suggest that only one source of renewable power is the answer to weaning ourselves off fossil fuel*.  Each has it's advantages and together they are much more effective than any single source.  And single technologies are more effective  if they are geographically distributed.  That is the advantage of our existing national grids.  They can bring power from areas where the wind blows or the sun shines to where the wind  is not blowing or the sun is not shining at the moment.

*April 1 - I just read an article in the Guardian that Aus is putting in a massive solar electric facility with batteries.  Great move.

If there is one country in the world with abundant renewable energy it is Australia.  I don't know why they burn coal at all.  Must be political.  It certainly isn't technical.

Post scriptum 

Two days later.

I just got to thinking.  There is no need to reinvent the system.  It already exists in most of it's parts.  For a first approximation simply go to your local car demolition yard and buy the air conditioning system of a wrecked car. presumably they   run on 12 volts DC.  You might also need  a12V battery into which to feed the electricity from your solar panels  to regulate the voltage.  You might also need some sort of cut out switch to ensure that you don't take the battery too low.  I believe that such a switch already exists in camping vehicles which have a second 'house' battery.  You then need a refrigeration technician to extend the pipes between the inside part of the system and the outside part and to charge up the system with refrigeration gas.  You may also want to purchase the fans that blow across the respective radiators from the wrecking yard.  Radiator fans should be just the trick.  For a very modest investment you could test out such a system and see how it's capacity compares with the needs of your house. From then on it is just a matter of some tweaking and development.  The basic system already exixts.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Vetting check list for rich immigrants

The rich from America and other Northern Hemisphere countries see the chaos coming and want a bolt-hole to run to if the situation in their own country gets too hot.  New Zealand is a prime target for the rich and 'famous'.  If they have been instrumental in the creation of the coming chaos, they should be left in their own country to enjoy the fruits of their labor.   The source of their fear is three fold. 

Economic
There is the threat of another crash but one that won't have an Obama to save the day.  Obama succeeded in avoiding the worst consequences (at least for the rich - the common people suffered) but he didn't manage to get reforms passed the way FDR did.  Before FDR the American economy crashed on about a 14 year cycle.  Post FDR there was half a century of economic stability.  Clinton and others deregulated and we had 2008.  In the natural course of events one would expect the next crash about 2022 (14 years after 2008).  I doubt it will take that long.

Climate Change
There is the threat of climate change and some indications that it will hit the Northern Hemisphere very hard.  The chaos, climate change will cause will make the nastiness caused by America's never ending wars look like a minor inconvenience.

Insurrection
Third there is the threat of insurrection in America.  Trump has appealed to a population that wants change and who wouldn't.  They could have had Bernie but a hugely corrupt DNC shafted that possibility.  Now we have Trump and if there was ever a divisive president he is it.  I don't think most American politicians realize why  the second amendment was put in the Constitution (right to bear arms).  It was put in place so that no government could ever abuse their population as was the norm in the 1700s.  The American population is heavily armed and many many of them have been sent to war after war.  They are battle trained.


Therefore, below, I present a vetting list for the "rich and famous" when they want to buy  a bolt hole in New Zealand to escape to.  Some of the following would automatically eliminate a candidate, some would trigger what our friend Trump calls extreme vetting.  Unfortunately some of our politician and civil servants are all-a-flutter at the prospect of catering to the rich.  I'm not saying by any means that they are receiving favors from these people.  Just that they are a little starry eyed.  Think - An innocent 16year old girl who has just got a date with a rock star.  All a twitter.

                         Vetting List 

*Anyone who doesn't pass the normal criteria of language, time spent in New Zealand, police checks and so forth that any other immigrant must pass.  You have to ask yourself, why would someone who is well established in their own country want citizenship in a country they don't live in. Why should we allow them to purchase a bolt hole in New Zealand to avoid the results of their actions.

*Any member of a Northern Hemisphere political establishment. Especially the GOP.

*Anyone in the Trump administration.

*Any American super delegate.

*Any CEO on an obscene salary.

*Anyone who works or worked for Goldman Sachs, Merril Lynch or any of the other companies who were implicated in the crash of 2008

*Anyone who works or worked for a bank. Especially if they hold or held high office.

*Anyone who was in the Bush administration. 

*Anyone in the Military.  The higher up, the more extreme the vetting.

*Any lobbyists.

*Anyone in the pharmaceutical industry.  The higher up, the more extreme the vetting.  

Climate change deniers
If the scientists are even half right, the present gradual climate change we are experiencing  will suddenly (within a few years) flip to a new state.  Some call this a light switch phenomenon.  You push against the spring until the light switch clicks and you have a new state (light to dark).  You have to push  hard in the other direction until the previous state is restored.  No need to detail the chaos that will occur if the scientists are correct.  Any climate change denier would attract extreme vetting, anyone who's actions had hindered the adoption of measures to mitigate climate change would be summarily rejected.

Economic reform deniers
Following the crash of 2008 there was a crying need to re-introduce the measures that were so successful in FDR's administration.  His reforms stopped the boom and crash cycle and led to half a century of economic stability.  Anyone who fought against the re-institution of these measures would be automatically rejected. Anyone who was for deregulation, likewise.

You may like to add to this list and I will be happy to entertain any suggestions.  The principle is clear.  We don't want people here who have contributed to the coming CF.  Why should they get a get-out-of-jail card and leave behind the situation they have created.

Of course, if you reverse this list, you see the type of people who could be admitted to lifeboat New Zealand



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Letter to Barak Obama


Dear Professor Obama

I am very glad you are not going to observe common custom of American presidents and desist from commenting on the present presidency. You are a voice of calm, reason and right thinking which is much needed today.

Your legacy is being dismantled step by step and this is a tragedy. I was going to say that you have no one to blame but yourself but that is manifestly untrue. Also to blame are Hillary and Debbie in cahoots with each other and Elizabeth Warren.

Not only are you a constitutional lawyer but you swore to uphold the constitution of the United States. The core of that constitution is the part saying that the government is ‘by and for’ the people. The rest is window dressing. Just keep that part and you would still have the best founding document that the world has ever known.

Therefore, if you were going to endorse someone as the Dem candidate it should have been the peoples choice. It was abundantly clear who that was. To support anyone else was unconstitutional.

What really gets me is the stupidity of the decision. Why on earth would you, the DNC and Warren support a candidate with at best, a 50:50 chance of beating Trump instead of the candidate that would have left Trump as a minor foot note in American history. Professor Warren is particularly disappointing.  She was by a long shot my all time hero and her fall from grace, pandering to her own ambitions to be on the team is shocking.  And it is not as if she didn't know who Hillary is.
  
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12mJ-U76nfg

You certainly have your work cut out for you trying to influence the course of the next 4 or 8 years but in my opinion, your first job is to reform the badly misnamed Democratic party. There is nothing democratic about it.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWvH84YvEF8

Go back to the choosing of Truman as FDR's running mate and work your way forward in time to this recent CF resulting in Trump being elected and you will see what I mean.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_vice_presidential_nomination_of_1944

If Bernie had been elected, he would have taken your legacy, preserved and enhanced it.

What I am going to say now will sound bombastic but work your way through the implications of the situation we find ourselves in and you may come to the same conclusion.

Your support of Hillary combined with the support of the DNC and  Warren may just possibly have doomed our civilization. It certainly will have led to a huge amount of chaos and suffering in the world. Arguably we are just on the brink of tipping points that will send our climate to a new state. We have  adapted our civilization to the climate state we have had since the end of the most recent glacial period and any new state will result in much suffering. The more closely you have adapted to a situation, the greater the disruption under a new situation.

Looking at the strange weather now (2016-17) it could be that even Bernie would have been too late but at least he would have taken the necessary measures and we might just possibly have a chance.  Under Trump, especially if he is in for 8 years, we are deep in the brown stuff.

With respect to the economy,  under your administration, FDR-type reforms to the economy were not put in place. The next crash is inevitable.
Note that the economy boomed and crashed pre FDR on about a 14 year cycle.  After FDR put in much needed reforms, we had half a century of economic stability. Clinton and others deregulated and we had 2008.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Deal
You managed to pull us out of that one without the complete disaster that could have occurred.  However you failed to re-instate much needed reforms and the next crash is inevitable. 

So we are facing both economic chaos and Environmental chaos.

I hope that in the book you are working on, you will tell us ‘what happened’. In fact that might be a good title for the book. What Happened.  It could be an instruction manual for the next president, (after Trump)  telling him how difficult it is to get things done, and the pressures he is under to betray his beliefs. It could give future presidents a heads up on how to work the system.

A big advantage that Bernie would have had is that he has been a mayor, a representative and a senator. He had the experience. You, like Kennedy, didn’t have the depth of experience to know how to work the system. Johnson, the much maligned, got more of Kennedy’s measures through than Kennedy ever did. He knew how it all works

On that note, look what Trump is doing. He is doing what he promised and however you (and I) disdain what he is doing, he is proving himself to be an effective president and a man of his word. That is what the American people want and he is very likely to win a second term.  Looking at other things he has promised I can only say God Help Us.  The people he has surrounded himself with have an agenda which is past abuses of the American people on steroids

I believe that if you had moved on things such as Guantanamo during your first two years with a majority, you would not have lost at the mid terms.

It is not certain that Bernie could have pulled us out of our rush to destruction.  We may have actually gone too far already and the coming results are already in the pipeline.  But at least, he would have taken the much needed measures and given us a chance.  After 8 years of Trump, if he does what he has said he will do: and so far he has shown us that he is a man of his word: then it will almost certainly be too late.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Open letter to Senator McCain


Dear Senator McCain
I read your statement that “there is no national security interest more vital to America than the ability to hold free and fair elections without foreign interference”.

I’m not trying to “get at you” or at the United States but looking at America from outside, one gets the impression that this battle has long since being lost. Let me give you some examples. It is often easier to be more objective when looking  at examples that don't hit close to home so I will use examples from the Democratic Party and from some time ago.  I'm sure you can come up with more examples from the GOP  than I can.

Take the abysmal way that Truman was chosen instead of Wallace as FDR’s running mate in FDR’s last term. I’m sure you are familiar with the story so I won’t insult your knowledge by recounting it. Arguably, MAD might have been avoided if Wallace had become president. Wallace was clearly the people’s choice in America and was hugely admired all over the world He was an experienced politician with a proven track record but wouldn’t cow tow to the powers behind the spot lights.

Come forward in time to the recent Dem primary and the abysmal, undemocratic, unconstitutional activity under Debbie in cahoots with Hillary. Clearly Bernie was the people’s choice. If he had being running against Trump, the result is not hard to predict. I would suggest that he might well have brought in a Dem majority in both the House and the Senate on his coat tails.

Add to this the denial of registration in many states, the hassling of people trying to vote and the antiquated voting machines that are quite frankly a joke in a first world country. For a recounting of the abuses in one state, put in a google search box Youtube Arazona Hearings Democratic Primary. It’s a shocker.

If any more was needed, look at your delegate system. Even though a majority of the American people vote for a given candidate, your system can put the other candidate into office.What a joke.  What democracy??

Then you have  the reduction of polling stations such that it is a real treck for many of the voters to get to a polling station.  Older people and couples with young children either don't come to vote or get fed up by waiting in line for hours.  No prises for guessing which areas have lost their polling stations.

  Oh, I forgot.  Your totally undemocratic super delegate system, specifically designed to frustrate the will of the people if it doesn't agree with the wishes of the party bosses.

Just two more comments. First it is a bit rich for America to complain about another country interfering in America’s elections. America has a long history of deposing democratically elected leaders and replacing them with dictators.  America then supplies the dictator and his army with arms and money so that they can suppress their own people. Start with Mosedeq in Iran and work your way through Africa (Congo for instance)  and then central and South America. Include Italy. Look up the mtkass blogThoughts on the Roof” and type in the search box, “Timeline America to see a catalog of specific cases.

Secondly, while it is important who hacked the e-mails, the really important question is what they revealed. They revealed a very corrupt DNC, which is part of the so called “free and fair” election system of the United States of America. The corrupt, bought and paid for American press is continuing its misdirection of the American people by focusing their attention on who the hackers were instead of what they revealed about the American election system.

Whoever hacked the Dem e-mails did the American people a favor.

Senator, there is nothing democratic about the American system.. You have by far the best constitution of any country in the world but you simply trample it into the mud.