Happy New Year

Metamorfossi

“You Americans need to step out of yourselves, we like you people,” George White Eye* insisted, his own focus lit wide, wider than the small room in which I lay. I cannot respond with his fingers inside my mouth. “You understand what I say?”

More…

Appreciation appreciation – thanks for the memories

Whoever thought home prices would continue to rise forever, please raise your hand(s), we’re doing a head count and just need a round figure. Really, though, not to flog a deceased equine but sprawl-building was our last great industry/swindle and its grand finale is the soft focus of much consternation among the hoi polloi. Soft because we’re not really focussing on it much beyond the mortgage meltdown and the bailouts being processed at the top, not seeing how it might be woven into other problems and the fulcrum for the great transition to come.

There is a profound over-capacity of housing; speculation about how and when the housing market, meaning the building of far-flung subdivisions, will ‘bounce back’ is absurd. Its. Not. Going. To.

Sure we’re rather not think or speak about this kind of unpleasantness, and our remarkable powers of disassociation have been noted. But it doesn’t change the fact of so many people out of work: in the construction industry, real estate, banking, even sandwich flipping and all the tag-along support industries related to building, selling and living in suburbs. These folks will have to find something else to make. Whatever it is, it will be green in that it will be made and sold close to their homes, using materials that have been recycled likely several times and will be made by some post-industrial process that i s carbon neutral – so we should begin imagining what some of the things it might be.

This is a Test

When I was a kid, there was probably everyday – and likely precipitated by the specter of nuclear attack (which seems almost surreal now) – 30 seconds of test pattern with a C flat hum on the tv, probably between some favorite shows. You would just get accustomed to waiting it out, then the voice over would come on and say: “This has been a test of the emergency broadcast system. Had this been an actual emergency, you would have been caught practically unaware as you have have become so complacent about the test that…” Well, it didn’t say that. But it could have.

This drop in gas prices is a similar though much more poignant test of our ability to comprehend the circumstances in which we find ourselves, vis-a-vis dwindling energy reserves. I mean, I don’t know what else to call it besides stupid. Actually, I can think of a few things.

“We’re in remission right now,” said Marvin E. Odum, the vice president for exploration and production for Royal Dutch Shell in the Americas. But once the economy picks up, he said, “the energy challenge will come back with a vengeance.”

Come back? It’s gone somewhere? Sure it’s hiding behind the drop in prices that is the result of a fire sale to jetison every asset for cash, including in the commodities market and oil contracts. But it’s… HIDING. This a test of our resolve. The biggest challenge/problem we have in society – all caps implied – is what to do when the price is cheaper. When faced with this, we always do the wrong thing: destroy downtowns, eat poison, willfully trash the environment, put ourselves out of work, live in isolation… all because it costs a little less. Low, low prices. Always.

Listen up, people. This is an actual emergency. You are being defined on your ability to resist your impulses to return to your regularly scheduled programming and wait for this to pass. You must begin to change everything about the way you do everything before this looming catastrophe changes it for you – even and especially when it is supposedly cheaper not to.

I won’t go into why it would be cheaper to begin to change now. I think I’m already starting to have more in common with the sound of the hum than I’m comfortable with.

Update: Interesting addendum to the miles per gallon vs. gallons per mile debate to tack on

and sometimes (Red)

A friend directed one of the music videos, here.  The whole enterprise is premised toward shedding light on the absurd reality that tens of thousands of people are living with a greatly treatable disease, suffusing a very substantive cause with music and performances.

I wasn’t crazy about the early incarnations [years ago?] of the campaign that paired the cause with a credit card – we’ve got to get away from the tacked-on ‘feel good’ messaging that appeals to getting some direct benefit (feeling good) from doing the right thing while maintaining a comfortable separation from the work that is needed to affect actual progress. But this digital magazine looks more like the ‘take this hope, make something lasting and give it away” I have espoused elsewhere. More like this, please.

Unrelated but also, this is 10 levels of awesome.

Meeting green energy goals

This article from the Times last Friday lays out in somewhat predictable fashion how some states have set goals for their percentages of renewable energy that they likely won’t be able to meet.

“I think we are really overselling how quick, how easy and how complete the transition can be,” said George Sterzinger, executive director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, a Washington advocacy group.

More than half the states have adopted formal green-energy goals. In many states the policies, known as renewable portfolio standards, are too new to be evaluated. But so far the number of successes and failures is “sort of a 50-50 kind of affair,” said Ryan Wiser, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of a recent report on the targets.

At first I was thinking that this was merely an excellent ‘press’ story, because they love to set up pins and knock them down. Maybe we should have some PBA sub-designation and sponsorship. The article appears to be thought provoking when, in actuality its merely following a formula, or so it seemed.

The utilities cited a catalog of reasons for falling short. These include stop-and-start federal tax incentives for renewable power, problems finding reliable suppliers among the many young and fragile start-ups in the industry, and difficulty getting transmission lines built and obtaining permits to build solar stations and wind farms.

“Not every part of the country is equally blessed in terms of having locations for renewables,” said Debra L. Reed, president and chief executive of San Diego Gas & Electric, which is having trouble getting new transmission lines built to an area with a lot of sunshine.

Most of the actual people associated with Utiltity companies quoted in the article remarked on this problem – the need for new transmission lines. Maybe the reporters, straying from formula, are agitating for infrastructure spending for our electrical grid, especially collapsed onto so many other reports of the needs for, and Obama plans to enact, gigantic public works programs.

Transforming the system would seem to be a great way to put a lot of people to work, prepare for the non-carbon energy future and enable some potent, new technologies. More

The current grid is a stiff arrangement of one-way transmission lines, centralized generation facilities and aging substations. The recent emergence of large amounts of renewable electricity in markets around the country are creating new challenges for both the transmission and distribution sectors.

On the transmission side, the issue is whether there are enough lines to bring renewable energy onto the grid. Because many of the abundant renewable resources are far away from load centers, additional lines must be built to bring wind, solar and geothermal energies to market. If plans to construct lines are not on the table, developers will be hesitant to build large projects in these rural areas.

“This is what we call the ‘chicken and egg’ problem,” says Meyer. “It’s difficult to develop new generation without being certain that the transmission capacity is there or will be there. No one wants to be out front taking an undue portion of the risk.”

As planners look to build more of those lines, they may have some emerging technologies to consider; particularly High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) and wires based on nanotechnology.

HVDC transmission is certainly not a new concept — but it’s gaining ground in the U.S. as renewable electricity will have to be transported further distances with higher efficiency in the future.

The other technology still in the research and development phase is the “armchair quantum wire,” made from tubes of carbon 100,000 times thinner than a human hair, called carbon nanotubes. When these nanotubes are made into a larger wire, they can conduct electricity far more efficiently and over far greater distances than the copper wires used today.

Meeting green energy goals

This article from the Times last Friday lays out in somewhat predictable fashion how some states have set goals for their percentages of renewable energy that they likely won’t be able to meet.

“I think we are really overselling how quick, how easy and how complete the transition can be,” said George Sterzinger, executive director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, a Washington advocacy group.

More than half the states have adopted formal green-energy goals. In many states the policies, known as renewable portfolio standards, are too new to be evaluated. But so far the number of successes and failures is “sort of a 50-50 kind of affair,” said Ryan Wiser, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of a recent report on the targets.

At first I was thinking that this was merely an excellent ‘press’ story, because they love to set up pins and knock them down. Maybe we should have some PBA sub-designation and sponsorship. The article appears to be thought provoking when, in actuality its merely following a formula, or so it seemed.

The utilities cited a catalog of reasons for falling short. These include stop-and-start federal tax incentives for renewable power, problems finding reliable suppliers among the many young and fragile start-ups in the industry, and difficulty getting transmission lines built and obtaining permits to build solar stations and wind farms.

“Not every part of the country is equally blessed in terms of having locations for renewables,” said Debra L. Reed, president and chief executive of San Diego Gas & Electric, which is having trouble getting new transmission lines built to an area with a lot of sunshine.

Most of the actual people associated with Utiltity companies quoted in the article remarked on this problem – the need for new transmission lines. Maybe the reporters, straying from formula, are agitating for infrastructure spending for our electrical grid, especially collapsed onto so many other reports of the needs for, and Obama plans to enact, gigantic public works programs.

Transforming the system would seem to be a great way to put a lot of people to work, prepare for the non-carbon energy future and enable some potent, new technologies. More

The current grid is a stiff arrangement of one-way transmission lines, centralized generation facilities and aging substations. The recent emergence of large amounts of renewable electricity in markets around the country are creating new challenges for both the transmission and distribution sectors.

On the transmission side, the issue is whether there are enough lines to bring renewable energy onto the grid. Because many of the abundant renewable resources are far away from load centers, additional lines must be built to bring wind, solar and geothermal energies to market. If plans to construct lines are not on the table, developers will be hesitant to build large projects in these rural areas.

“This is what we call the ‘chicken and egg’ problem,” says Meyer. “It’s difficult to develop new generation without being certain that the transmission capacity is there or will be there. No one wants to be out front taking an undue portion of the risk.”

As planners look to build more of those lines, they may have some emerging technologies to consider; particularly High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) and wires based on nanotechnology.

HVDC transmission is certainly not a new concept — but it’s gaining ground in the U.S. as renewable electricity will have to be transported further distances with higher efficiency in the future.

The other technology still in the research and development phase is the “armchair quantum wire,” made from tubes of carbon 100,000 times thinner than a human hair, called carbon nanotubes. When these nanotubes are made into a larger wire, they can conduct electricity far more efficiently and over far greater distances than the copper wires used today.

Currency

Typically characterized as hard, or cold. This, too, is one of the loaded meanings of green, of course, and not keeping some handle on it would be not only remiss but cause the other meanings to crash into a field of mere literal connotations. In that spirit, this article in the Times on the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles caught my, um, eye.

So first thing, the headline, Soaring in Art, Museum Trips over Finances, doesn’t past the smell test. You should know something is awry when art and finance are used in the same phrase in a newspaper. And not because anything is sacred, fer chrissakes. But finance in newspapers always means shareholders and art, alas, can’t even get its mouthpiece in before the first haymaker.

And sure enough, a couple of graphs in, the MOCA is in trouble – and has been for years. Bad management, shrinking endowment used for operational expenses, big donors bolting the board… I’m being redundant.

Yet by putting art ahead of the bottom line, the Museum of Contemporary Art has nearly killed itself. The museum has operated at a deficit in six of the last eight years, and its endowment has shrunk to about $6 million from nearly $50 million in 1999, according to people who have been briefed on the finances.

So, contemporary art… what have they been showing? Their permanent collection boasts Rauschenberg and Ruscha, but money problems at museums make me think of much more complexicated™ interstices of art, marketing and commodity than mere paintings, printmaking or collage. What’s the word… oh yes… Installation. And sure enough they get to it.

And at times the museum has secured financing for exhibitions in ways that many other museums would shun. To help pay for last year’s Takashi Murakami exhibition, the museum solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from art galleries that represented the artist and therefore stood to gain from any related career boost.

Fair enough, I actually see little wrong with this supposedly nefarious ploy, as if our shackles should rise merely on the cross-branding. I mean, where is the lost innocence? No, I’m much more interested in who and what is Takashi Murakami. And a .0002567-second interweb search brings video of the Times coverage of his exib at the Brooklyn Museum last year. Murakami, a Japanese pop artist likened by the video reporter to Andy Warhol because “he works at the intersection of pop art, mass design and high fashion.” Excellent.

He’s known for his work – there’s that word again – with Louis Vuitton; in fact there was a functioning LV boutique inside the museum. What’s that game? Oh yeah. Keno!

But let’s go to the man himself. Reporter: do you think a purse with a logo on it can be considered art work? (Don’t answer that. She’s trying to trick…)

Murakami: I think so.

Okay, okay. LV creative director Marc Jacobs makes the point that art is fundamentally unnecessary, that “with art, there is no right or wrong, only opinions.” The extent to which he actually believes this confirms the self-fulfilling nature of his point.

So back to the financial problems at the LA museum. Alternately, there could have been some sort of foundational flaw in the building itself to cause it to physically collapse and everyone would stand around the pile of rubble lamenting the decision to go with the architect who fathered the structural  imperfection, signed off on the drawings that ultimately destroyed what they were designed to protect. “People deserve better!” the elegantly appointed mob might chant.

Instead, it is teetering on the verge of a similar collapse because of what? Some design flaw that reinforces how unnecessary it is? In the post-judgment judgment environment, if art or ecology can be mixed with commerce, then they must be. It seems to be the only rule. So let’s no kid ourselves about the consequences.

But discerning what it is and is not necessary is all about one of these. Can you guess which?

This should help

According to Columbia Journalism Review, CNN will eliminate its entire science, technology and environment news staff, including its chief correspondent.

A source at the network, who asked not to be named, said the move is a strategic and structural business decision to cut staff, unrelated to the current economic downturn. Financially, “CNN is doing very, very well,” the source said, and none of the health and medical news staff has been cut. Yet the big question, of course, is whether or not the reorganization will decrease the overall amount of CNN’s science, technology, and environment coverage. CNN says no, but it’s hard to imagine that it won’t—Anderson Cooper or not, fewer people is fewer people.

Absolutely brilliant and could not be more timely, as people seem especially fed up with all of the public emphasis on and coverage of the environment, particularly as it relates to new technology. It’s oversaturation, something must be done about it and CNN is stepping up. This. Is. CNN.

Via.

Oh crap… there’s a funnier line further down in the article. And not funny “ha ha”.

CNN is not the only television network that has been slashing science jobs. According to The Washington Post, “NBC Universal made the first of potentially several rounds of staffing cuts at The Weather Channel [last week], axing the entire staff of the “Forecast Earth” environmental program during the middle of NBC’s ‘Green Week,’ as well as several on-camera meteorologists.”

?

Five Mississippi’s

Before we can rush the QB.

Cheat or die

M: There’s also the case made in the book [by the Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown] for a large-scale transference of manufacturing in the U.S. from auto to things like wind turbines. How realistic do you think that is?

GD: I think Lester Brown is a saintly person who is not entirely of this world, as saintly people often are not. And while it makes a great rhetorical point, those factories would not just have to be re-opened, they’d have to be hugely re-tooled. So, I quoted Lester Brown and then I immediately argued with him. I like that man, but I don’t really think he’s my guide on these matters.

M: But there is a kernel of truth there.

GD: There’s certainly more than a kernel of truth in it. This is not a hard problem to solve. This is a straightforward problem. You’ve got to get out of fossil fuels. We have the alternatives. Go. If the political will is there, that will happen. I think, therefore, it will happen, sooner or later. The problem is, it’ll probably be later.

M: Do you think it will be too late?

GD: I think it may be, in which case you need some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card, to win yourself a couple of more decades to get your emissions down. So you don’t want to go beyond two degrees Celsius, you’ve got too much carbon dioxide in the air which will take you past two degrees Celsius, and you still haven’t got your emissions down as far as you should. What do you do?

M: Blast sulfur dioxide into the air?

GD: That’s right, that sort of thing. Just to win time. You’re not solving the problem, you shouldn’t imagine you’re solving the problem. You’re winning yourself time to solve the problem, the right way. So when I include that in the picture, there is a way to cheat, then I can feel more optimistic about the future.

The M is the Montreal Mirror and GD is Gwynne Dyer, author of the recently released Climate Wars. From an interview between the two.