If it woes, it leads

We’re backing into the climate future/present with woes leading the way. It’s the perfect media framing and supports the status quo – yes everything is awful. We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas, let’s see how we can keep cheap gas going a little bit longer. It’s this way, in part, because ALL of the progress is boring. For instance, wide bandgap:

Silicon and silicon carbide are useful in electronics because they are semiconductors: They can switch between being electrical conductors, as metals are, and insulators, as most plastics are. This ability makes semiconductors the key materials in transistors — the fundamental building blocks of modern electronics.

Silicon carbide differs from silicon in that it has a wide bandgap, meaning that it requires more energy to switch between the two states. Wide bandgap, or WBG, semiconductors are advantageous in power electronics because they can move more power more efficiently.

Silicon carbide is the senior citizen of WBGs, having been under development as a transistor material for decades. In that time, engineers have started using younger upstart WBG materials, like gallium nitride, or GaN. In the 1980s, researchers used gallium nitride to create the world’s first bright blue LEDs. Blue light comprises high-energy photons; gallium nitride, with its wide bandgap, was the first semiconductor that could practically produce photons with the sufficient energy. In 2014, three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for that innovation, which became ubiquitous in devices like TV screens and light bulbs.

Lately, researchers have started using gallium nitride to improve power electronics. The material reached commercial fruition over the past few years in adapters for charging phones and computers. These adapters are smaller, lighter, faster-charging and more efficient than traditional ones that use silicon transistors.

“A typical charger that you buy for your computer is 90 percent efficient,” said Jim Witham, chief executive of GaN Systems, a Canadian company that supplied the transistors in Apple’s gallium-nitride laptop chargers, which were released last fall. “Gallium nitride is 98 percent efficient. You can cut power losses by four times.”

Keep going, science.

Green Culture Wars

Sure, Republican presidential contenders are going to roll out the DADT/Abortion carpet all over Iowa in their quest to be the Rightest of the Wrong. It’s what they do. It’s all they do. And Democrats might welcome their inclination to secure the 27-percenters.

But as this keeps happening over and over again, it might occur to us that the culture war idea is in need of expansion. After all, if the Kochs are going to fund movements and candidates to secure their right to pollute, they’re probably happy to keep people focused on these supposedly ‘values-oriented’ issues – that motivate the base of one side, and use up limited resources on the other – instead of fighting back in the green ground game.

Do you believe global warming is real? Do you support wind and solar energy projects? Should we incentive utilities and reward them for getting us to use less electricity? These are questions worth sparring over. And developing this ‘culture of life’ will probably be funner.

We’re playing catch- up on refocusing the big questions. Abortion? Or stabilizing atmospheric carbon levels? Culture of Life?

Just sayin’.


Joe Romm details the curious case of the Koch-funded influence on PBS’ Nova (and a Smithsonian exhibit on climate change and human evolution) in the context of the PBS Ombudsman’s response of, “Wha?”

But not PBS ombudsman Michael Getler.  He seems to have no trouble whatsoever with David Koch, a leading funder of the anti-scientific climate disinformation campaign (and the anti-science Tea Party), funding an episode of the great science show Nova, which:

  • is an effort to greenwash Koch’s activities
  • just happens to whitewash the threat human-caused global warming

Getler ignores the first concern entirely, and his entire defense of Nova’s dubious entanglement with Koch is “As a viewer of what strikes me and a lot of others as a consistently first-rate program, I trust NOVA.”  The beauty of that defense is that it could apply equally well to essentially every PBS show.  Hey, they are all first rate programs, so what the heck are you listeners complaining about?

It is becomes very difficult to navigate the morality of rich billionaires funding things you like, like museums and opera houses, at the same time they’re bankrolling nefarious schemes to muddy the water on global climate change. They know it’s tender conundrum and maybe that’s why support the arts – as a sort of protection racket for their own hobby horses and political affinities. This is either cynical of them, or me for thinking it – but you have to ask yourself it’s better to be aware of the poisoning of your favorite wells or just to keep on lapping it up because it’s always tasted so good. But just because it’s hard to discern doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it.

As an example, and a pretty good one because it’s ostensibly about the royal family and mostly beyond the realm of my caring, I read this article about phone hacking by the British tabloids and, the take away is the depths of the corruption of which the Murdoch News Group avails itself. The extent to which they are connected to Scotland Yard and can afford to settle with complainants (who then sign non-disclosure agreements) and/or simply hire former government officials is profound. The side story about how the new Conservative PM will embark on a campaign to de-fund Murdoch’s UK competitor, aka the BBC, is also handsome bit of roughtrade. But again, good to know and better even to acknowledge that this kind of corruption goes on and some/many view it as a perfectly proper way to do business using everything at their disposal. Now you can’t say we didn’t tell you.

On a side note, you just read the 501th post.

Billions of Ways to Be Wrong

When you’ve got enough of it, green means being able to influence elections, muddy the water on issues of the day, even fund fake grassroots movements, aka Tea Parties (R.I.P), all to stoke your corporate agenda while you call it libertarianism. Huzzah! Jane Mayer has a well-written and well-reported piece in The New Yorker on the Brothers Koch and their exploits. You should read it all; it’s like contemporary American history in the making:

In a 2002 memo, the Republican political consultant Frank Luntz wrote that so long as “voters believe there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community” the status quo would prevail. The key for opponents of environmental reform, he said, was to question the science—a public-relations strategy that the tobacco industry used effectively for years to forestall regulation. The Kochs have funded many sources of environmental skepticism, such as the Heritage Foundation, which has argued that “scientific facts gathered in the past 10 years do not support the notion of catastrophic human-made warming.” The brothers have given money to more obscure groups, too, such as the Independent Women’s Forum, which opposes the presentation of global warming as a scientific fact in American public schools. Until 2008, the group was run by Nancy Pfotenhauer, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. Mary Beth Jarvis, a vice-president of a Koch subsidiary, is on the group’s board.

Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego, is the co-author of “Merchants of Doubt,” a new book that chronicles various attempts by American industry to manipulate public opinion on science. She noted that the Kochs, as the heads of “a company with refineries and pipelines,” have “a lot at stake.” She added, “If the answer is to phase out fossil fuels, a different group of people are going to be making money, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re fighting tooth and nail.”

I’m as guilty as anyone of narrowing my focus at times and missing the big picture. But the big picture is huge and often difficult to grasp, and it’s good to be reminded that it’s not conspiratorial to think know that some people with means count on this, too, as just another tool in the pouch. Remind yourself that it takes some work to stay informed, that the 1st amendment is a kind of cautionary note, freedom in reverse – not to do nothing, but a responsibility to do more. Way more. Just to find out what you need to know. Especially when we’re as peopled with highly motivated oligarchs as we are. Besides the many other things they are, the Kochs’ activities equal exhibit A for the estate tax. 99.3% at least.