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Separating Fact From Fiction

Limousine Liberals Strike Again!

Below I have pasted an amazing quote from this article in The Times about a wind farm receiving resistance from a couple of bad apples in the name of some pretty amazing and disingenuous concerns. I have included it as my comments were #1 among all reader comments and I think capture a couple of angles that pervade the Limousine Liberal community and are eating away at the environmental movement from the inside and from the top down. Why in God’s name or anyone else for that matter would Red States and ultra-conservatives take us seriously or work with us as liberals/environmentalists if we aren’t willing to put our money and sacrifice where our mouth is? Read the rest of this entry »

The Cherry On Top! (aka Master of the Obvious Part Deux)

There really is no need to say any more as the title says it all.

U.S. Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in Afghanistan

I wonder if Big (What a..) Dick Cheney knew about this one! He couldn’t have otherwise he would have insisted on a more concerted and muscular presence in Afghanistan throughout the War On Terror. Oh well chalk one up to good ol’ fashion Mullah Omar misdirection. Something tells me you will be hearing that Freeport-McMoRan (FCX)out of New Orleans will be getting their grubby nefarious hands involved in this operation given their robust play in the global copper market. Okay you heard it hear folks with FCX’s near monopoly on the global copper market and a large presence in gold we will absolutely see a strong push by them into this nascent opportunity. Just for the record FCX shares are currently trading at $65.26 on the NYSE, traded as high as $87 on January 8th, 11, and April 5th of this year, BUT are far below highs of $114 and 122 on October 10, 2007 and May 19, 2008, respectively. These two dates and the general peak in copper prices happened to coincide with a commercial and residential housing construction boom in China and lead some to believe that we had reached Peak Copper, although the latter has yet to be proven, but it stands to reason we will reach some sort of peak given the finite nature of copper availability, the world’s insatiable appetite for it, and the fact that last I checked creating it out of thin air ain’t an option! I will keep a keen eye on this and I suggest anyone reading this do the same as I demonstrated with an earlier posting on Roche and it’s share skyrocket in the weeks leading up to and after The Great H1N1 scare.

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I would just say to the Pashtuns of Southern Afghanistan caveat emptor with Exhibit A being FCX’s Grasberg copper and gold mine in Indonesia, where the natives are restless and growing more so by the day. FCX is determined to see this mine to it’s complete exploitation given that it accounts for $4 Billion of FCX’s $6.5 Billion operating profit (i.e., Nearly 2/3). Some have even decided that peaceful protest is no longer helpful resorting instead to primitive but effective methods of “Message Delivery”. However, when the Indonesian government equips the mine bosses with a security force of 3,000 troops and police the odds are stacked against the indigenous peoples of Papua and Papua New Guinea (See Map courtesy of The Economist).

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Motor City BOTE

BOTE stands for Back-Of-The-Envelope and is a common phrase applied to macroscale or overly coarse calculations done kinda haphazardly. Well given this caveat I came across an article from The Telegraph (UK) titled “Detroit to Bulldoze Thousands of Homes in Fight for Survival”, which quoted the following statistic:

“Almost a third of the city’s 139 square miles is vacant or derelict, though its land area would comfortably fit Manhattan, San Francisco and Boston, cities with combined populations of three million.”

I thought it would interesting to apply some of my dissertation data to figuring out how much of Detroit’s CO2 footprint could potentially be offset if this land was reforested. So, here it goes step by step.

(33%*139 Sq Miles)=45.87 Sq Miles of vacant or derelict land

Convert to Hectares=45.87*259>11,880 Hectares

Hectares to Square Meters=11,880*10,000>118,803,229 Square Meters

Grams of Carbon per Square Meter Per Year (From my Thesis work we assume the average for Great Lakes forests is 10,849 g C m-2 yr-1)=118803229 Square Meters*10,849 g C yr-1>1,288,896,240,464 g C m-2 yr-1

Metric Tons Per Year=1,288,896,240,464 g C m-2 yr-1*0.000001>1,288,896 Metric Tons of C captured Per Year IF the 45.87 Sq Miles of vacant or derelict land was reforested!

NOW lets put this number in perspective relative to Detroit’s actual emissions.

If we assume Detroit’s population (For Now!) is 951,270 and residents of the city emit approximately 23.4 Tons of CO2 per person per year that comes out to 22,260,764.4 Tons of CO2 per year for the city of Detroit, which means……..

The figure calculated above for potential carbon captured by reforestation of vacant and derelict land (i.e., 1,288,896 Tons of CO2 per year) equals 5.80% of total city-wide emissions. This number while not jaw dropping is far from trivial and any efforts to implement such plans should be encouraged locally and nationally as 5.8% of anything at that scale adds up and would greatly increase the quality of life in Detroit. Similar projects are sprouting up in neighboring F lint, Michigan as well as places as far off as Chilibre, Panama. Likewise we have data on those areas as well and could do similar BOTEs in an effort to quantify the impact of reforestation, both above- and belowground.

We have an interesting love affair with shopping in this country and I thought it would be illustrative to quantify its influence on our land to capture carbon. First lets quickly look at how much we love shopping and how much our economy (and by association China, Japan, the EU, etc etc) depend on our insatiable appetite for stuff. It is true that we have come down off our Great Depression high of 83% Consumption as  a percent of GDP, but for the better part of the last 63 years we have maintained a relatively static 65% of GDP attributable to consumption.

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However, this figure has risen substantially in the last 20 years from 62% in 1981 to 70.8% in 2009.

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You might say well what does my local strip mall have to do with CO2? Well your local strip mall displaced some sort of native ecosystem that, up until the big trucks and earth-moving equipment came, was drawing down CO2 via photosynthesis and decomposition of biomass to produce soil carbon.

Well that has had a cumulative effect and I have attached a couple of graphs to demonstrate this phenomenon. Using Gross Leasable Area (GLA in sq feet) per person data back to 1990 we can calculate above- and belowground carbon displacement via shopping center expansion (Blue Line), which sums to about 218 Million Metric Tons between 1990 and 2009, which when subtracted from Total US CO2 Emissions gives us the inset in the figure below.

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How you might ask does this relate in-terms of percentages? Well it turns out it is quite similar in magnitude to what I described for Detroit. If we assume - based on EIA assumptions - that Residential emissions is 6.65% of the story here in the US with respect to CO2 emissions than the above removal of native ecosystems for shopping centers translates to anywhere from 2.78 to 3.31% of Residential CO2 emissions across the entire US. However, if we had implemented the type of plain they are considering in Detroit across all fifty states beginning in 2005 we would have had the opportunity to “offset” 3.13% of our emissions per year as opposed to 2.85% between 1990 and 2004. You may say what is the big deal about 2.85 to 3.13%? Well when you consider we are measuring our fiscal and monetary peril here in the US with values like 3 to 12% of GDP and the fact that US GDP is expected to grow by 3.0% in 2010 v. 0.18, a decline of 1.83, and 2.53% in 2009, 2008, and 2007, respectively…Then the numbers I present here start to take on a whole new meaning. The harm inflicted by shopping centers - never mind the removal of capital and liquidity from local markets via large multinationals like Wal-Mart and Best Buy - is not just skin or in this case soil surface deep. It impacts the ability of communities and watersheds to withstand flooding, retain nutrients that would otherwise pollute reservoirs and aquifers, moderate temperature and moisture volatility, and propagate a sense of ownership among residents. The data back it up. Chalk another one up for BOTEs!

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Forget Peak Oil….Try Peak N, P, and K

Below I have plotted USDA data for Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potasssium (K) applied to crops in the US from 1960 to the present. You will notice two distinct trends (Ex. Fertilizer labels read - for example - 10-10-10 or something like that, which corresponds to 10 Parts N, P, and K Respectively):

1. Nitrogen is and has always been the predominant fraction of fertilizers. However, more importantly N:P ratios have risen at an alarming clip from 1.06 in 1960 to 2.88 in 2007, which translates to 271% in less than 40 years. This in itself is an unsustainable trend that genetic engineering will not be able to offset. Additionally, the ratio of P to K was 134% higher in 1960 with the pivot-point (i.e., more K than P applied) being 1976-1977 (Note: I wonder if it is in any way correlated with the awesome run the Grateful Dead had during that same time frame?).

2. The percent vs. Tons P & K curves, while largely decoupled prior to to 1978 have now converged, which means that more fertilizer needs to be applied - and energy expended - to get the same Energy Return On Investment. This is quite unfortunate given the apparant lake of Global P-Pools and the recent USGS report that quantified global P at 62 Gigatons (ie 1 Billion Tons) and K at 250 Gigatons.

This data demonstrates our reliance on not just Carbon (i.e., Oil) but also N, P, and K alike. It will come to pass that the import of these 3 elements will approach if not surpass that of Oil in the next 50 years mark my words! However, there are tons of ways to ameliorate this trend and they include the application of Industrial Policy to large-scale composting ventures…Not at the Federal level but rather within counties or municipalities. These would produce two sustainable and non-trivial revenue streams via the sale of compost and anaerobic digestion of methane gas. Additionally, these materials could easily be applied to agricultural operations across the country as a dry (No Soluble P or N responsible for eutrophication), nutrient rich, carbon dense amendment. NO ZERO SUM HERE!

My primary concern going forward is what I will call the CNPS Approach, which just means that instead of having such a strong and disproportionate Carbon-Bias policy needs to focus equally on the other two-thirds of the biogeochemical pie, which are Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorus (P) (and Sulfur (S)). Everyone is familiar with the influence of CO2 and the established as well as nascent efforts aimed at monetizing carbon, but with some very simple modeling we could easily link the former to equally important Upward (i.e., CH4, N2O, and N2) and Downward Flows (i.e., NH4, NO3, PO4, and DOC) via emissions and leaching, respectively.

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It Aint Just Carbon!

The importance of GDP to economic growth is exceeded by the importance of CNP in nature

It all started with the discovery by American oceanographer Alfred C. Redfield (1890-1963) that the ratio of Carbon (C) to Nitrogen (N) to Phosphorus (P) (C:N:P) of free-floating marine phytoplankton (seston) throughout the world was quite static and reflected the differences of dissolved nutrients in associated waters. The Redfield Ratio as it is known today is 106:16:1 for C:N:P, which means that for every unit of phosphorus there are 16 units of P and 106 units of C. The importance of this discovery for biologists was equated to Avogadro’s number or the speed of light in a vacuum by some scientists according to Sterner & Elser’s book “Ecological Stoichiometry”. Redfield’s Ratio has since been proven an overly generalized depiction of aquatic C:N:P, with an average of 354.4:20.1:1 across all manner of aquatic phytoplankton (See Chart 1).

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Out of this discovery grew a very specialized but extremely important discipline called Ecological Stoichiometry, which is essentially a bunch of balanced equations describing how C, N, and P are transferred and transformed in ecosystems. It is quite a revolutionary and at the same time elementary concept, with detractors noting that Ecological Stoichiometry is either too complicated to be understood or too simple to be true. Another way to look at it is that Ecological Stoichiometry gives scientists the opportunity to quantitatively attach elemental importance to the balance of energy and materials. The name stoichiometry comes from the Greek root stoicheion for element and metron meaning measure. Broadly speaking the field focuses on C, N, P, to some extent sulfur (S), and rarely hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) or as scientists like to call them “The Big Six” for their ubiquity and import in all organic and some inorganic processes. Every constituent of this planet, whether living or dead, flora or fauna, above or belowground, land or sea has a unique stoichiometric ratio of these elements. Organisms must vigilantly maintain these ratios in order to survive, which is also the case for humans (homeostasis). In their book “The Natural Selection of the Chemical Elements: The Environment and Life’s Chemistry” Williams & Fraústo da Silva hypothesized that evolution from early to late prokaryotes, to unicellular eukaryotes, and eventually to complex multicellular eukaryotes was coupled with an increased affinity for homeostasis.

Homeostatic stoichiometry is the struggle to maintain a consistent internal chemistry, while an organism’s environment particularly the elemental makeup of its food fluctuates quite drastically. Some organisms – usually of the sedentary variety – display a flexible Ecological Stoichiometry. Their lack of mobility means they must capitalize on the resources available at any given point in time. Truly homeostatic creatures, whether they be ants (C:N:P = 4.8:12.0:1), snakes (C:N:P = 4.4:3.7:1), or the Dalai Lama (C:N:P = 13.3:6.3:1) are not, in the strict sense, what they eat, rather they maintain their C:N:P by a variety of unsavory and malodorous activities we won’t expand on here for fear of offending the faint of heart. Needless to say organisms that must maintain a narrow C:N:P will go to great lengths in pursuit of that goal even if it means no one to sit next to in the lunchroom. You know that stuff you accidently stepped in while walking down the sidewalk or in your local park? That present Fido left for you has a C:N:P of 9.7:0.9:1.

The question is why should we care about these ratios? Well for the answer let’s look to the most famous examples of balanced chemical reactions, photosynthesis [Eq. 1] and decomposition [Eq. 2]. After all when you peel away the layers of scientific mumbo-jumbo this is what Ecological Stoichiometry is all about. If you are starting to have horrible images of your Intro Organic Chemistry class now would be a good time to stop reading. Are you still here? Good. These two reactions drive plant growth [Eq. 1] and decay of everything from tree leaves (C:N:P = 18.6:8.2:1) to septic waste (C:N:P = 12.0:2.7:1). These reactions and those that produced the Redfield Ratio rely on what is called the Law of Definite Proportions.

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The importance of the “Big Six” in nature is not hard to find. One need not look further than Adenosine Tri (ATP) and Diphosphate (ADP) the primary energy transfer molecules in cells for the importance of phosphorus, while sulfur is crucial to amino acids (i.e. cysteine) the primary precursors of proteins. Researchers have shown that the Stoichiometric formula for humans in number of atoms is:

H375,000,000O132,000,000C85,700,000N6,430,000Ca1,500,000P1,020,000S206,000

Na183,000K177,000Cl127,000Mg40,000Si38,600Fe2,680Zn2,110Cu76I14Mn13

F13Cr7Se4Mo3Co1

Thus, we humans have a “Big Six” H:O:C:N:P:S Stoichiometry of 2.8:1.5:13.3:6.3:5.0:1. This may seem confusing but understanding how these elements flow into and around the human body or for that matter ecosystems tells us a great deal about the so-called “velocity of elements”. Many reading this have heard about the “velocity of money” in recent years and the importance of keeping the flow of money brisk and consistent. Well the same is true of elements and Ecological Stoichiometry is an important tool in determining where elements are backed-up or where they are moving too fast to be utilized. Two interconnected examples of the human condition’s influence on Ecological Stoichiometry are the Haber-Bosch process that fixes nitrogen gas to produce ammonia for N, P, and Potassium (K)-rich fertilizers and the Gulf Coast algal blooms in the US that have created consistent and ever expanding deadzones in the waters off the United State’s Gulf Coast. The latter is a direct function of excessive fertilizer application and manure production in the Mississippi River watershed, with manures having C:N:P of 20.3:7.0:1 and most fertilizers either having equal parts N:P:K (10:10:10) or an excess of P (10:20:10). Thus, Gulf Coast’s aquatic ecosystems are experiencing an increase in the velocity of Ecological Stoichiometry – specifically P – via the Mississippi river, which is leading to increases in algal production and decay all of which deplete the waters of oxygen.

Plants and animals adhere to relatively strict C:N:P (:S), because in theory they are trying to fulfill their maximum growth potential, even though such conditions in actuality might be completely illusory. Living beings want to find that stoichiometric “Sweet Spot”. Ecological Stoichiometry explains why we crave certain foods and can’t stand the sight of others. Ecological Stoichiometry, and specifically the C:N:P:S ratio, is a field of study and a natural process that will receive increasing attention in the coming years given the fact that humans are rapidly depleting the world’s supply of P, with 62 Gigatons remaining according to the USGS’ most recent estimates.

In addition, this ratio and its variability is responsible for phenomena such as acid rain in the northeastern US and Europe, and groundwater contamination in and around areas of heavy agriculture. Scientists have known since Redfield and earlier the importance of understanding the interconnectedness of the “Big Six” and more specifically C, N, P, and S. In 2000 Falkowski and colleagues compared natural and human-induced changes in the stoichiometry of earth and found that the change due to anthropogenic causes was 13%, 108%, 400%, and 113% for C, N, P, and S, respectively. Thus, our fascination with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) may be at best myopic and at worst dangerous. Forget the GDP what is your country or state’s CNP?

Complete Chart 1 From Above:

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The True Cost of Coal!

Clean Energy, Clean Coal, Foreign Oil, Middle East Instability, blah blah blah blah blah.

The 2 graphs presented here derived from the US Mine Health & Safety Administration show the true cost of coal. Since data was first recorded back in the 1930s we have lost at least (ie Average Annual Derivation) 420,960 men due to coal mine fatalities and 25,633, 151 have been injured. As to the severity of the latter I wasn’t able to get my hands on how many resulted in men that were Functionally Dead. With more and more union busting and people like Don Blankenship the owner of Massey Energy the company that oversaw the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia making no bones about his distaste and most likely hatred of unions fatalities will rise in my opinion. Yes mechanization and strip-mining has resulted in a decline in fatalities but there has been - in recent years - an increase in large and broadly fatal “accidents”. The Upper Big Branch was a non-union mine thanks to Mr. Blankenship’s machinations. I am not promoting across-the-board unionization but I am worried that erosion of unions where their presence is required may prove economically costly to miners and in the worst case scenario Upper Big Branch Reduxes throughout Appalachia. There may be clean ways to burn coal but it’s extraction is dirty on so many levels not least of which is the fact that it robs communities of their fathers, brothers, uncles, little league coaches, and more importantly their collective spirit. West Virginians and coal mining communities writ large consist of proud, determined, stubborn, and resourceful people. However, the Paradox of Plenty (ie, The Resource Curse) caught them off-guard with the speculative and nefarious vultures swooping in to promise riches that have yet to be delivered. We need to stop stigmatizing these communities and start infusing them with capital aimed at a more diversified economic portfolio. I have been to these communities and they are desperate to decouple themselves from Carbonaceous Robber Barons like Don Blankenship.

Enjoy the data I think the figures speak for themselves.

Average Annual Deaths and Injuries:

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Average Cumulative Deaths and Injuries:

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Geoengineering Delays the Inevitable

The following is from last week’s Economist:

Geoengineering is an umbrella term for large-scale actions intended to combat the climate-changing effects of greenhouse-gas emissions without actually curbing those emissions. Like genetic engineering was in the 1970s, the very idea of geoengineering is controversial. Most of those who fear climate change would prefer to stop it by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Geoengineers argue that this may prove insufficient and that ways of tinkering directly with the atmosphere and the oceans need to be studied. Some would like to carry out preliminary experiments, and wish to do so in a clear regulatory framework so that they know what is allowed and what is not.”

What Geoengineering really is is an ingenious group of scientific avenues that will allow society writ large to shrug off it’s (our) responsibilities and hand the myriad of them to future generations. I absolutely believe in some of the techniques/concepts that fall under the Geoengineering umbrella BUT only if society is willing to embrace significant across-the-board electrical, consumption, and natural resource stewardship austerity measures. Otherwise Geoengineering allows us to circumvent a much deserved bout of self-flagellation. When the facts change we must change our mind. Aside from an unfortunate obfuscation of the data at the University of East Anglia the facts have changed for the worse ergo - Geoengineering aside - it is time for us to change our minds and embrace a Blended Climate Change Amelioration Portfolio (BCCAP). This will include anathema (i.e. Nuclear, Geoengineering, Genetic Engineering) to some environmentalists - including myself - but in return it must include the aforementioned flagellation and a bullish embrace of wind, CH4 digestion, ecosystem appreciation vis a vis development or agribusiness, and biofuels that embrace the role of plant-root carbon sequestration.

Chart of the Day

How bout this eye-catcher from the Environmental Law Institute.

It shows US Energy Subsidies, with $2.3 Billion to Carbon Capture and Storage, $12.2 Billion to Traditional Renewables, $16.8 to Corn Ethanol, and $70.2 Billion to Traditional Fossil Fuels (energy_subsidies_black_not_green1). I wonder how these numbers will change with the recent hydraulic fracturing love affair and the Marcellus/Bakken Shale formations in the Northeast and Upper Midwest Respectively.  Another example of a 5:1 Ratio here in the US (Okay 5.75:1 you get the point!).

The prevalence of the 5:1 Ratio here in the US is quite worrisome given where we see it (i.e. See previous posts).

Land of the Rising Sun

I was just reading an awesome piece in The Economist on the death of an 800 year old Ginko Tree (Ginko biloba) in Japan when I came across the following quote:

“nature is to gods and man what God is to nature and man in Western religions.”

Do we have it backwards here in the West?

It seems as though Western religion - especially given the recent Catholic redux - could use a little dirt beneath its nails.

Instead of Finding Religion they could do themselves good by Finding Mother Nature! It is God’s Green Earth after all isn’t it?

Chart of the Day

How bout them apples!

I love it when 1+1 = 3

cleanwaterThis figure comes from the truly noble work of Charles Duhigg at The Times. He has been grinding away at the data and the latest piece in this series “Rulings Restrict Clean Water Act, Foiling E.P.A.” along with the articles in the series. I wonder what the math will add up to given the recent Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. This whole mess centers on the use or deletion of the word ‘navigable’ when referring to those bodies of water that are or are not under the EPA’s purview. Anyway what we are seeing here is a full-frontal assault on all laws pertaining to common decency with respect to “natural resources”. When the rivers turn red we will have no one to blame but ourselves, because the solutions are out there and the data is sound, but the will is quiescent.