The Bruce Science and Society Page

[Very Preliminary]

Please DO NOT quote me as an employee of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab - I AM NOT. The material and opinions expressed here are absolutely not those expressed, paid for, condoned, or even tolerated by LBNL or the University of California. Perhaps I should move it elsewhere when I have time....

Copyright 2008, 2009 Bruce Grossan

Potentially Useful Links
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Bruce's Energy Information Page - a few references which may be useful.

Who is this guy, and what is this page? I normally work in astrophysics, but one of my other interests is the relation of science and society, especially how this relates to Energy Policy. I put this page together so I wouldn't forget news items (and other references) I think are relevant, and to share them and my thoughts on Science and Society with friends and colleagues. All words here copyright 2008-2014 Bruce Grossan (except where otherwise indicated or quoted). All rights to Bruce Grossan material explicitly reserved. (Reprint requests welcome. )

Supposedly Regular Entries


2015 Feb 23 - The Case of Wei-Hock Soon ("Willie Soon") : Climate Journal Articles Paid for by Coal Burning Utilities

The NY Times article of 2015 Feb 21 by Gillis & Schwartz "Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Research" was actually spurred by documents released by Greenpeace and The Climate Investigations Center, an allied group. There are two surprises here. First, Soon, in direct violation of journal policies, failed to disclose that his papers since 2008 were funded by groups directly related to the largest coal-burning utilities and originally, Oil Companies such as Exxon Mobile. While the article implied that Soon explicitly took money to come to the conclusion that human activity didn't contribute to climate change, the reality is a little less lurid. So, the second surprise is that the incredibly damnig evidence consists of proposals for research saying that he will publish papers investigating the effect of solar variation on climate chanage. There are also "final reports" to the clients that say that he will make slides to "educate" people that the sun is an important cause of climate change, and some suggestion of rebutting scientists who say climate change is caused by fossil fuels.

Science is about (PART I) formulating a hypothesis, (I don't see any particular reason that this hypothesis cannot be biased), then (PART II) making objective tests of this hypothesis using (objective) reason, usually by making a prediction and comparint with (PART III) Objective Measurements. Finally, (PART IV) either verify or using objective reason, improve the hypothesis. There is a glaring, black-and-white no exceptions possible point to be made here: If anything non-objective leaks anything but the PART I, you have violated the scientific method. You can look like you are doing science, you can use scientific instruments, wear a white lab coat and look like science, but you are NOT doing science. You are doing something else (pseudo-science, superstition, politics, whatever).

Every scientist has their pet theory, and that's OK until they are always trying to prove it, as opposed to testing it. This brings us to the role of journals in scientific objectivity. When Soon goes to a first class journal he is supposed to read their disclosure and disclose his funding, then the editor and/or reviewer can make sure that the journal is not made a fool of for being the stooge of an oil company by double checking for any violations of required objectivity. Great scientists do ground-breaking lfe-saving research for self-interested big Pharma, "pure" physical scientists do research that ends up making, enabling, or helping companies make money and perhaps weapons; companies fund objective scientific research all the time, for good or ill. Get used to it.

However, the situation is much worse than that - truly biased, or otherwise crap research will always find an outlet. Most referees are in a hurry, resent the drain on their time and are not careful. Even in the best of journals. Especially in this internet journal age, where the entry cost is so low, someone will always publish any crap. They just have to keep submitting until they hit the right referee.

So here is the first place this gets really interesting: There was a huge controversy where four members of the editorial board of the journal Climate Reasearch resigned when they read one of the journal's papers and the published rebuttals. Their stated reason was gross failure of the peer review process - the paper was full of problems, how could the journal have let it by? The paper: Soon's 2003 paper with Baliunas. ("Climate Research" is listed in Wikipedia with, "The journal is also known for its publication in 2003 of a controversial and now discredited climate change article.", NOT what you want to have listed next to your journal's description.)

So, the danger of crap research slipping by in the journals is when politicians can quote it. We scientists have to stay ever-vigilant to test and publish falsifications of these artciles, and more importantly, communicate with the general public where they go wrong: Sentor: "So, there are journal articles that are for and against this, obviously it is unclear." Scientist: "NO senator. The corporate crap is in a journal with an impact factor of 1.38; the most prestigious astrophysics journals have impact factor of 6.3; there are four articles in high impact factor journals that debunk this! " and so forth. Soon could have easily gotten his articles published somewhere if he had disclosed. He would be dangerous still if he had. The lesson here is for us scientists to remain vigilant.

2014 Oct 9 - The Conspiracy to Punish People Who Use Public Tranport

Part I - A Typical Local Issue and PTransport users lose again.
If you've read anything I've written you know that Americans will use less transportation energy when they are rewarded for it, not punished for it, as they are now. When you take our local SF subway, BART, from Berkeley to Downtown San Francisco, you are handsomely rewarded: Everything downtown is within three blocks of BART stations, you could be in SF for 30-45 minutes by the time a car made the same trip and parked, and if you are by yourself you would save some $5 if you account for tolls, gas, and parking.The same is true, but even more so, for taking BART to SFO airport.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the way things work out anywhere in the US. To go 3.8 miles further to visit someone in SF, it takes you an additional 12 minutes in a car or 43 minutes (at a GOOD time of day) on PT. The busses are covered in grafitti, often full of litter, there are rarely seats, and there are regularly unpleasant people on board. You are punished in at least 3 ways for taking a bus rather than a car.

Given that cars use excessive energy, emit excessive greenhouse gasses, cause stress to drivers, and negatively impact drivers health by making them walk less, our society is a complete failure for allowing this - it's not true in any major city in europe. (*)

OK, this is the US. We like cars, we give you subways and busses, and everything is not wonderful. What more do you want? Here's how PT works in arguably the most alternative transportation -loving semi-urban setting in the US, Berkeley, CA. Let's say I work in downtown berkeley, and I take the subway to my suburban home. I'm reducing congestion, pollution etc. Now, what do I see when I get to Berkeley BART? I am greeted by beggars. Not so nice, but, part of the american Second thing: THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A FULL SERVICE MARKET; THE NEAREST IS 10 BLOCKS AWAY. People who get their food in grocery stores need to go somewhere else and GET IN THEIR CARS. Put another way, these weirdos are just not served by public transportation. There are numerous opportunities for $5 coffees and $6 ice creams; there are many, many, fast food places; there are many opportunities to buy condoms, cigarettes, chips and beer and mini-marts, and a full service head shop a block away, as well as a drugstore. So, public transportation, in this, one of the most friendly alternative transportation cities in the US, is for the head shop, cigarette and beer consumers. ANYONE ELSE IS NOT SERVED BY THIS PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION HUB.

This is at the heart of the astounding failure of our city and transportaion planners, that everyone pays the price for (because of our excessive transport energy use). Our transportation is a complete failure for the middle class, on a social and structural level. This needs to be fixed if we are to reduce our energy use, including forms of energy produced by middle eastern dictatorships.

There is a kind of postscript here: There is a huge local political hoopla about the "downtown plan" for Berkeley. Most of it is centered around plans for a "green" downtown and whether you implement that by high or higher buildings and how many housing units you build near BART and etc. Neither "side" of what is now called Measure R addresses middle-class services (such as markets) issue in the area. (I hope the residents, with no parking in the area, can live on condoms, cigarettes, and beer.) When I contacted a local city council Rep, Sue Wengraf, she told me that BART users can go to Trader Joes (5 blocks away from the downtown area). When I pointed out that TJs is nothing like a full service market (but do check out their bags of spinach and arugula!), and specializes in processed foods that Berkeley's own Michael Pollan tells us to stay away from... she declined to communicate with me further.

(*Try getting on a random bus in the middle of a european city and asking if it is difficult to get to a transportation hub like a train station or a market from this bus. They will look at you like you are a lunatic; this happened to me in Spain.)

Part II - A Typical Example of Poor Transport Management Punishing Public Transportation Users and Taxpayers lose again.

[This is long, so I'll abstract it later.]

Last time I was on AirBart, the connection between BART and Oakland International Airport, I saw a driver turn away 4 incredulous people (of 15 riders) because AirBART doesn't accept credit cards or the local transit card, and two more people were turned away for inexact change. To pay by credit card, you have to go to the ticket machines on the other side of a wall - so you cannot see the bus when it leaves without you. People with cash but inexact change are considerably worse off - they will get 20 quarters as change for a $5 at these out-of-the-way machines, but if they have 20s from an ATM they must find a working $20 to $5 change machine (not near the ticket machines), and THEN they can get 20 quarters. Assuming that they don't miss the AirBART bus during this process, in which case they get a pocketful of quarters and a 15-25 minute delay. So again, don't worry, because this only inconveniences 1/3 of all riders. That I was able to count, anyway (there are probably more who knew beforehand but didn't say anything.)

Only in the US could one have a good transportation system (BART), but not build it to connect it with trains and planes. Eventually this slight oversight was recognized and a bus link from BART to OAK was proposed. Using US-style logic, they tried to make it as cheap and minimal a service as possible, so busses run only to certain times (you can't catch early flights and you can't get home if your late-night flight is delayed). They run about every 20 mintues, and take 15-20 minutes to do the trip. This amounts to an average of about 25 minutes for a trip that takes 10 minutes in a cab. AIrBart busses are fine, actually. THey are clean enough, they have nice racks for luggage. Why is it, that in something like 15 years of operation, the various authorities couldn't make it work for real people who want to get to the airport without too much hassel?

Only a government agency could pretend that people don't use credit cards, that people like to carry a couple a couple pounds of change with them, that people don't mind missing busses that only come every 20 minutes, and carry a large variety of bills for vendors convenience. (AirBART isnt' familir with getting cash from an ATMs, I suppose). In an age where even tye-dye vendors at flea markets have mobile credit card terminals, the non-acceptance of credit cards is pretty outrageous.

How much would it cost to relieve this misery of exact change by taking cards? Not much. What would it cost to double the frequency of busses? Well, it might cost double, and let's say for practical purposes that would only double the cost of the ride to $6. But over decades, it was never done. We users of this system complained about this bad treatment and punishment and voted like 10 times over like 20 years for an alternative direct connection to BART. (Well, In the end it wasn't really direct, you have to transfer to another rail, but whatever.) We were really really really fed up. Here's the thing: to replace this system, one that any Asian country could make work brilliantly, or even any (gasp) European (and quasi-socialist) country could make work passably (except during summer strikes), it turned out that this cost a lot of money. We just got the bill: $484 million dollars, according to

Wow, that seems like a lot of money. LIke, enough to send 5000 children to college, enough to open new schools and libraries. What would doubling the number of buses cost? Like 10 million dollars for 10 years? The cost of a cell phone credit card terminal is like $100/month; the cost of a fancy terminal that would do credit cards and transit (clipper) cards and everything would probably be $300/month/bus, special govt contract, but how can you compare that to 484 million dollars?

I tried to do some looking into BART documents about this. I found three interesting things. First, BART claims that the OAK extension trains will come every 4 minutes (that's what I'm talkin' about!; from, they claim that AIrBART is every 10 minutes (possible on average, but doesn't account for variation of up to 20 minutes that I have experienced), and that the most recent report on on ridership, "BART-Oakland Airport Connector Ridership Update", does not one iota mention anything like desirability or quality of the transportation in their report.

Are these people on drugs? Do they think the ridership would be the same if the transportation were Rolls Royces stocked with Champagne, vs. say, a muni bus (for those of you not familiar with Muni, that woudl be the lowest of the low.)? What planet do these people live on, and what species do they think they are transporting? How could they NOT figure in convenience AND desireability?

There's just something about public transit in the US that requires people to be punished for using it. Long wait times, no exact change, no credit cards - the US provides dreadful service that just won't cut it in other countries. I suppose it's a puritan thing - if we want good service we should be rich and have a chauffer, or at the very least our own fancy car. But shouldn't our society know better by now? We are about to re-fight at least one, but quite possibly several wars in the middle east. We need public transport to save energy. To me, this means we need to straighten out management of public transport as well as making funds available for extending it; in this case it seems that the former could have done a perfectly good job for a lot less than the latter.


2014 Jan 8 - 50th Anniversary of the US Surgeon General's Report that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer

This week JAMA had a series of articles and an editorial about the landmark Surgeon General Report of Dr. Luther Terry in 1964 declaring that smoking caused lung cancer. One of the articles showed the statistics of the astounding saving in human (American) life due to this study. NPR had a piece about how the Tobacco lobby ran an incredibly effective astroturf and disinformation campaign - for years polls showed that Americans believed that smoking's link to lung cancer was "controversial".

1. I find this report a monumental a singular triumph of truth and straight data over social pressure and other mechanisms for making bad decisions.

2. I find that the really interesting sociological point - established social patterns and traditions vs. the rights of the individual, was completely glossed over.

According to, the FAA began to regulate cigarette smoking on flights starting in 1988, ratcheting up to complete ban in 2000. In the last decade or so, smoking has been outlawed in most public buildings in the US, and incredibly, even countries like Italy have followed suit. Times have changed!

When I was a child, it was generally considered rude of me to ask people to stop smoking. Was I nuts? Did I think I was special? For my part, I could not possibly begin to understand their reason. I thought, "I'm not doing anything to offend them; how on earth could they think my asking them not to offend me is an aggression or an offence?" Well, it's plenty obvious now that there was no reason involved. Tobacco companies were successful in making it the social norm to smoke, and that was a completely effective end-run around reason. And because of that, it was a successful defeat of my individual rights. Or is it? Is there no way the "Bruce version of Kant's moral imperitive" could be applied to rule by reason in these cases?

The "Bruce version of Kant's moral imperitive", formulated because Bruce does not know the correct version, goes like this: Reason requires that a moral/ethical law can only be supported by reason if it is derived from a principle that applies symmetrically. The classic example is that some religions claim that anyone that does not adhere to their religion is immoral. More than one religion cannot claim this without a contradiction; I would add that in daily life I know people from different religions that are moral and I don't see how someone who grew up isolated from any religion can be faulted for it.

Applied to smoking, such a requirement of symmetry would have likely saved me: Bruce Argument: Don't do anything that offends someone else that requires them to leave to obtain remedy. The Smoker's argument: Don't interfere with my freedom to do what I want. The making of any rude smells, noises, sights, gestures, spraying offensive liquids, etc. would be allowed under the smoker's argument, and that is unworkable. Judgement awarded for non-smokers.

The problem is that we all have cultural biases, and most of us do want some expression of this in our laws. Can we call display of a violent image an "action"? What if this is an image intended to show a terrible crime? Isn't then suppression of this image an action? More on this later. For now, Happy 50th anniversary of the smoking cessation movement in the US.

2008 December 22 - My Op-Ed on Dr. Chu's Nomination Published in the San Jose Mercury News; Move on Vilsack and the Corn Ethanol Boondoggle

My Op-Ed was published this weekend in the San Jose Mercury news on sunday December 21, "launched" on-line 12/19/2008 - "Opinion: Obama's energy secretary nominee faces daunting challenges."]. I put this here so as to somehow vaguely keep the timeline straight. If you want to know about this, you should just go to the entry on Dr. Chu's appointment announcement.

Minor Addition - Vilsack is to some extent an unknown quantity on the corn ethanol boondoggle. In a rolling stones interview (Vilsack on Corn, Ethanol, and Brazil 12/17/08, 2:22 pm EST) he sort of said all the right things - lowering tariffs for Brazilian sugar ethanol, and "There needs to be focus on switch grass, on municipal waste, on timber, on other ways to produce ethanol that is more efficient and burns more efficiently and uses less energy to produce it." On the other hand, I have read (in the Huffington Post ,but I'm not sure this publication is typically considered a standard reference) that for all his talk of being a "small-town attorney" has has been counsel for ConAgra and Monsanto, and flown on their corporate jets many times. So, he could be a guy who listens to people like Holdren and Chu ... or he could be a very savvy politician who will say the right things and see that money keeps going to the corn ethanol boondoggle. Let's not wait for him to show his true colors, however; I think people should get active and send letters to Obama et al. saying they want the end of corn ethanol boondoggle subsidies and they want it now.


2008 December 17

Obama announces Tom Vilsack of Iowa as his pick for Secretary of Agriculture. This is potentially a DISASTER. To quote the NY Times (Iowa Ex-Governor Picked for Agriculture Secretary, JEFF ZELENY/DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, December 16, 2008 ), "Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Vilsack are regarded as staunch advocates of ethanol and other bio-fuels as a way to reduce the nation's reliance on foreign oil." Since corn ethanol is the vast majority of ethanol produced in the US today, you can bet that means more of the same. Corn ethanol should be called the Corn Ethanol Boondoggle, as it is a monstrous boondoggle that is well-known to reduce fossil fuel use in net by only a small amount, and to provide NO reduction is greenouse gasses. Really, picking a guy from Iowa, which might as well be called the "ADM/Cargil state", to head Ag, when you are promising change, is not much different from keeping Cheney as VP. What a disappointment. I see lots of corn boondogle subsidies in our future, and no decrease in green house gasses at all. Furthermore, this means that Obama is either ignoring, or refuses to be exposed to all the Michael Pollan work on real food vs. industrial agriculture. See his articles on "The Food Bill" and related.


2008 December 11

Steve Chu Announced as Head of DOE - My Op-Ed on Dr. Chu's Nomination in the San Jose Mercury News

[My Op-Ed was published in the San Jose Mercury news on sunday December 21, "launched" on-line 12/19/2008 - "Opinion: Obama's energy secretary nominee faces daunting challenges."]

Last week when Obama introduced his picks for Energy, Environment, Ag, and Interior, some newspapers called them the "dream team" for environmentalists. Appointing as distinguished a scientist as our own Dr. Chu did send a message of change - the previous administration certainly did not respect science. However, Dr. Chu is not known for being a strong opponent of Corn Ethanol. Also, what kind of a message does it send to appoint an Ag secretary from the corn capitol, Iowa, at a time when we really need to kill the corn ethanol boondoggle? Obama has enthusiastically supported the corn ethanol lobby's directives during his career as well. Will Dr. Chu and his science advisors vigorously fight against corn ethanol, or will they be led down the dark and slippery path that the Corn Lobby wants? "This [billions of dollars of subsidies for corn ethanol] is just the first step toward ADVANCED biofuels, which will solve everything.", "Don't you want to help famers", etc. etc. It's hard to fight that kind of stuff. In order to fight the influence of the Corn Lobby, I felt compelled to write what amounts to a challenge to Dr. Chu to fight them, and make real *measurable* progress in other areas of renewables in this Op-Ed in the SJ Mercury News.

An excerpt from the published article: "As our nation gets ever deeper into disastrous entanglements in the middle east, in cycle after cycle of gut-wrenching gasoline and oil price rises, our Department of Energy has been spectacularly ineffective at its "Big Goals": finding a way forward for America toward a less imported, more secure, more sustainable energy future. Previous DOE heads stood silent as lobbyists got us ever more addicted to gasoline via SUVs and exurban sprawl. Previous DOE heads did nothing as politicians gave billions to the corn ethanol lobby, while knowing that corn ethanol yield little reduction in fossil fuel use and almost no reduction in greenhouse gasses. "Clean Coal" has been in national energy policy for years, yet the technology remains speculation. (Here, burn exhaust is pumped into the ground, not the atmosphere. The leak rate back above ground is unknown - if it is significant, everything for miles around such a facility would be killed. The last testing project was cancelled by the DOE last summer, so the US is making no progress on this.) Previous DOE heads looked away as presidents put forth boondoggle after boondoggle (remember how fuel cell cars were going to save us?). We deserve and need much better. "

And the conclusion: "I urge full support of Chu and Obama's energy plans. But we need measurable progress right away. Forget "Change I can believe in." I want "Megawatts renewable I can measure," and I want it now. We've waited far too long already. "



2010 December 11

Ethanol Boondoggle Expires (Partially)

Well, I've been a bit busy, so I haven't exactly kept this current. Mea Culpa. This has been an incredibly fascinating couple weeks in energy and politics. The week ended with outrage over all sorts of pork in the "Obama-Republican Lame Duck Tax Bill"; earmarks were complained about, though ethanol barely mentioned. I was made aware of the ethanol subsidy by reading about the colorful Senator Bernie Saunders 9.5 hour old-fashioned fillibuster in the senate. Ethanol Subsidy in the last minute "emergency" tax bill? Never imagined it (I'm being sarcastic here).

Just a week before the compromise, 2010 Nov. 30, Senators Feinstein, Kyl Lead a Bipartisan Letter Calling for Ethanol Tariffs and Subsidies to Expire, as the headline on the Feinstein website read. Incredibly, numerous republicans AND democrats TOGETHER are taking aim at this damaging, overpriced Ethanol Boondoggle. The text of the letter is on my energy_info page, or hopefully the link below still works:

This was reported just about nowhere. The LA Times, whose site did not even come up with it in a search, should be ashamed of itself not reporting this unbelievably important move. The NY Times reported it only in blogs and secondary columns such as "Freakanomics".

Maybe our lawmakers sometimes really do look out for us?



2008 November 22

Timing is Everything - Comments for Obama's Energy Team

Somewhere I read that Obama, unlike most politicians who live and think in sound bites was "at home with nuance". I hope this is so, particularly in terms of energy policy. Most politicians seem to send a team off to pick the best of the "Silver Bullet Solutions" to energy problems, then their policy is a combination of giving the Ethanol Lobby what they want (which solves nothing) and promising the silver bullet, which never works out.

I have written criticising plug-in hybrids on my energy information page, on the basis of the short life of Li battery technology, and on the basis of lack of renewable energy to power them once they get to mass-market. Briefly, you can't argue with the incredibly poor efficiency of internal combustion engines - anything electric beats them by a mile. The problem is that batteries are terrible at storing energy, are expensive, could make a waste disposal problem, and the best practical batteries are LI or Li-ion types, which have about 1/8th the lifetime of NiMH. NiHM work well in the Prius, and make this car fantastically popular. Unfortunately, the batteries in the prius will only get you to the freeway, it needs its own internal compbustion engine to get farther (albeit effciently). To get the 40 or 50 miles range desired, you need lots and lots more batteries, lots and lots more weight, which drags on efficiency and performance. Long trips are the deal-breakers for electric cars because of short range and long recharge times. With battery swap programs you could make this work, but they aren't there yet. Finally, when you plug in your efficient electric car, you are trying to be green but you are powering it with, on average, more than 50% dirty coal in the US.

How to fix this? Timing. Timing is everything. Instead of silly "silver bullet" and "soundbite" energy policy, Obama's team needs to come up with a TIMED program to introduce electrics and plug-ins. Basically, you need to encourage electrics and plug-ins in the same region where you can easily get and transport renewable energy, where there is bad traffic to take advantage of the benefits of electric, and GROW THE ELECTRICS/PLUG-IN HYBRIDS WITH YOUR RENEWABLE PORTFOLIO. In this way you avoid putting electrics on the road that just burn dirty coal.

A program might look something like this: Choose a dense urban city in the west with bad traffic (that's where electrics give the greatest advantages), but with good year-round sun and/or wind. Establish a MANY YEAR project to nurse that city's electrics along. Phase I: Make a deal with local car companies that the US would guarantee a certain number of sales for many years. Install a few solar chargers on the lots of the largest local employer and a few at the largest federal employer (e.g. the local post office sorting center). Solar is currently expensive, so just a few of these. Give huge incentives for installation of home charges and purchases, again, just for a small number as a "seed". Give every kind of encouragement to increase the service life of LI batteries or the energy ensity of other long-lasting ones. Phase II: Install a "smart grid" in this region to bring the wind energy to town. Start a battery exchange station halfway to the next big town. Phase III: Grow the program COMMENSURATE WITH CLEAN ENERGY CAPACITY. Don't encourage lots of electrics so they can effectively run on dirty coal; encourage them as you add renewables. At the close of the Obama admin, (in 8 years?) evaluate whether you need more wind, or if solar has come down enough in price to get more of that, and grow the program to other cities.

Why not rush headlong into electrics and/or plug-in hybrids? Because a measured, long-term supported program, with known evaluation and course-correction dates, will encourage the kind of sustained interest and investment that you want for success. A rush, on the other hand, would end up burning dirty coal to run electrics, and would have government money spent on whatever technology or company lobbied the hardest, rather than the one that was best for our nation and it's natural environment.

2008 Approximately July

The NYTimes reported that the very last demonstration project for "clean coal", sometimes referred to as "sequestration", sometimes referred to as "Carbon Capture and Storage", or CCS, was shut down. Soon after, the DOE undersecretary for science came and spoke at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and I asked how he could possibly claim that the DOE was doing its research job if this, possibly the cheapest and most plentiful source of "green energy", featured in many plans for carbon reduction in both the US and Britain, had essentially NO PROOF THAT IT WAS FEASIBLE. His answer was a long, tangled discussion that the event was a minor political setback, there was some mumbling that another project "may go forward" in Scandanavia, and that was about it.

I fear that CCS is impractical for safety reasons (no one wants to be liable for leaking deadly amounts of CO2 in 100 mile-size regions), and always will be, and that its inclusion in public plans is just more political misdirection or buying time for politicians.

2008 Approximately April

The president of R&D at BP visited UC Berkeley to give a talk. At the end of his talk, in which he extensively discussed wind and other carbon neutral energy sources, I asked him what it meant that that very same day I read in the NY Times that BP was completely shutting down all alternative energy operations? He shrugged, said he had read about that too, but he wasn't in the business or operations side, just the R&D side, and didn't know anything more about the future of these technologies at BP than what he read in the last annual report.

2008 Feb 29

Today I saw in the Yahoo business news an oil company, BP actually, bragging that it was installing a wind farm in Texas approaching a gigawatt (750 MW acutally). I have to say seeing this in the business section, not the earthy-cruncy greenie magazine really made my day.



Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat is the article in the NY Times today; the Journal Science papers are referred to here. Basically, one scientific paper showed that uncultivated land held an incredibly huge amount of carbon- not just rain forest mind you, but the meanest scrubland too. If you grow biofuels in Kansas, no matter how good your process is, much much more carbon that you could ever save will be released into the air because some land somewhere else will go into growing the food that used to be grown in Kansas.

This article was quickly criticized by green fuels researchers, including the heal of LBNL's EETD. How this will play out in time will be very interesting, if not crucial to biofuel's future.



2008 February 20 - Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Weak on Energy Policy

So, it turns out that both Clinton and Obama have both supported the corn ethanol boondoggle.
So much for the courage to change or whatever.

From his web page, I lear that he has sponsoted lots of pork for corn-ethanol:
" Obama passed legislation with Senator Jim Talent (R-MO) to give gas stations a tax credit for installing E85 ethanol refueling pumps. The tax credit covers 30 percent of the costs of switching one or more traditional petroleum pumps to E85, which is an 85 percent ethanol/15 percent gasoline blend. Obama also sponsored an amendment that became law providing $40 million for commercialization of a combined flexible fuel vehicle/hybrid car within five years."

I note that while he has inserted the words "cellulosic" in his more recent stuff at the top of the page, but let's face it, he has been in the past solidly behind the ethanol boondoggle.

And here is Hilary:

"To speed the shift from foreign oil, Clinton proposed incentives for hybrid cars, improving household energy efficiency, accelerating development of ethanol made from plant wastes and installing ethanol pumps at gas stations."



2008 January 30

Pacific Ethanol is building a plant with matching funds from the DOE to make ethanol fuel from ag waste - [Yay!] This will produce 2.7 Million Gallons of ethanol. The real ethanol plant next door (Boardman, WA) produces more than 10 times that (40 Million Gallons) using traditional methods. (Source: Tri-City Herald). Traditional methods of course, don't reduce greenhouse gasses significantly, and are mostly a taxpayer boondoggle [Boo hoo.]


2007 December 20

Congress tells your children to lie and blow their college fund on fast cars

In the last week, congress passed an "energy bill" stripped of requirements for renewable energy, and the EPA declared that states cannot set their own (strict) emission rules. This is such a huge victory of lobbyists over common good, when I saw the two events in the paper at the same time I was struck dumb. With our country in deep malaise over a disasterous and deadly war in the Middle East, you would think that our politicians would realize that we need to stop pouring our energy money into the mess that is the Middle East. Instead, in both these cases, they have declared campaign contributions from lobbyists more important than energy independence, to say nothing of climate. First, corn ethanol: you would think they would get it that ethanol from corn is as much a taxpayer ripoff as it is a complete lie. All credible studies show that little or no net fuel is produced from corn-to-ethanol schemes because more oil energy goes into farming & processing than ethanol energy can be extracted. Even president Bush knows this, and even he is now careful to talk about "cellulosic ethanol" (which might be viable some day , but is not now) and not corn ethanol. Are you partisan, and think Democrats are more "green" Than republicans? Even democratic politicians, with this bill, voted for windfall profits for corn agribusinesses (ADM, Cargill et al.) and high food prices all over the world (a result of high corn prices) instead of the truth - that the corn ethanol programs are the newest, biggest, taxpayer boondoggle.

Second, mileage standards: In 1985 I drove a honda CRX that got 44 mpg - an expensive, desirable car driven for handling and performance, not for saving on gas. Twenty-two years later, we desperately need a dozen such high-mileage cars to choose from; we have just two, and of course neither are American. Why don't we have such choices? Because our politicians would rather exchange auto industry campaign contributions than actually work for real change - through a means we know will work, mandated fuel economy.

Everyone in the US now understands what energy security means. If we can stop sending money to dictatorships in the middle east, we might stop getting into wars there, and we might stop getting terrorists here. It is nothing less than despicable that given the price of trillions of dollars and so many human lives for the Iraq war, and inevitable future oil wars, our politicians have failed so monumentally to act to reduce our oil use. Let's not forget that scientific consensus says that oil use also causes us to pay in human life and trillions of dollars for future climate-related natural disasters like Katrina, droughts, etc. Our politicians don't get it that weather stripping, windmills and a solar panels - though not the only ways to go - are great ways to go for real results now. The latter two are expensive, but they fight global warming, spur domestic economic growth in installation (at minimum), and their benefits as an infrastructure continue for their multi-decade lifetimes. (Conservation is very, very cheap.) Why isn't a huge expansion of these items in our energy bills, instead of pork for agribusiness and the oil and auto industries? Answer: because windmill and weather stripping lobbyists don't have as much money as oil, auto, and agribusiness lobbyists. Congress' energy bill is a clear message to future generations: First, tell big lies to make money, because if you stand to make enough money, you can buy off congress, you can even buy your way around truth. Second, live for today, because your leaders are doing nothing about energy security or global warming, problems to really hit after their terms expire. There's no point in saving for the future if it's filled with drought, pollution, and wars that our leaders refuse to do anything to prevent.


An Insight; A Eureka Moment: Worldview and Ideology vs. Facts

Date: Sometime around 2006

I heard an NPR inverview by some guy plugging his book on marketing, and I must say this was one of my biggest "EUREKA!" moments of recent years. He was discussing why Americans buy bottled water. They buy it by the millions of gallons. But can't you define everything America IS NOT by simply saying, "Evian"? Anyway, this guy stated as fact that people pay hundreds of times the intrinsic value for bottled water when everyone knows, really, that this water is not only often actually from a tap, but doesn't taste different, in any way you could tell, than the water from your tap. The profound point here is that people pay, all the time, for a certain world view, or to see their world view reinforced, rather than for anything they can actually see, hear, or taste by themselves.

This insight has made it clear to me that our culture has lost sight of how little our lives are based on reason and empirical evidence. Thinking about this more and more, and the problems our society faces, has made me realize how this has really profoundly damaging effects on our society, and made me want to do something about it. Hopefully these writings will lead me to do something to help people see this.

Approximately 2005 May

I heard Nate Lewis of Caltech give a talk on Global energy. What impressed me the most was that even though he made detailed projections of energy growth in China and the US, all of the needs of the world could be met for the long-term future if 4X all building area were covered by solar. Not easy, but possible and incredibly effective. His website is

Long Quotes


Steve Chu

NY Times Dec 10 Nobelist with Climate Passion/ Andrew C. Revkin

The word is building that Steven Chu, the Nobel Prize winner who heads the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for secretary of energy. [UPDATE 8:45 p.m., I've added an email interview with Dr. Chu below that we had back in 2006 while I was reporting my long article on declining federal budgets for energy research.]

This choice would undoubtedly be hailed both by those pushing for development and large-scale testing of nonpolluting energy technologies and by environmental campaigners seeking knowledgeable leadership at the giant agency — which, while it still oversees efforts to boost coal and oil extraction, also has what may be the world’s biggest assemblage of scientists pursuing development of renewable power sources. [UPDATE, 12/11: More here on Dr. Chu and Obama administration environment posts. Also a very interesting post on innovation and Dr. Chu on ScienceInsider, a new blog by the journal Science.]

On Dec. 5, my friend Matt Wald provided the rundown on Dr. Chu as a candidate for this position. Below is video of Dr. Chu at a National Clean Energy Summit last summer talking about the role of energy efficiency and energy breakthroughs in heading toward a thriving planet with a stable climate:

He differs with former Vice President Al Gore on what’s necessary to transform the world from a fossil norm to abundant renewable energy options. In the videotaped talk, Dr. Chu lists as a myth the assertion that, “We have all the technology we need to solve the energy problem; it is only a matter of political will.”

As Dr. Chu puts it, “I think political will is absolutely necessary. But we need new technologies.” (Below the video, you can read the email Q&A I did with Dr. Chu in 2006.)

So he’s echoing a persistent theme here on Dot Earth — that leading the world toward a new energy norm will require a sustained “energy quest,” from the living room to the laboratory and beyond. Maybe that means he thinks any “green jobs” list should include chemists and engineers (and physicists).

Here’s the short interview I did with him in 2006 on some of the issues he’d pursue as energy secretary:

Q. Are the intellectual forces that need to be focused on the energy-climate problem on board (top-flight physicists, for one)? If not, what needs to be done?

A. There is a growing awareness that the danger of substantial, disruptive climate change is of a high enough probability that more and more scientists are beginning to ask themselves and each other what they can do to contribute to a solution.

Q. Has the scale of what needs to be done been adequately expressed by folks in the climate discourse? If not, how could this be done and be taken seriously?

A. I am not sure most of the public realizes that the greenhouse gases that we are emitting today ha[ve] 100+ year consequences.

Q. I’ve been talking with others about the “valley of death” — the gap between near-term R and D money from venture capital and short-term-oriented government programs and long-term R and D money for “safe” perennials like fusion. What research needs lie in the middle that are not getting addressed? (This presumes you agree on the “valley.” If you disagree, I would love to know your view.) How can these needs get targeted given hurdles out there (earmarking, thirst for short term payoff, aversion to failure)?

A. I was part of the report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” In that report we recommended a ARPA-E [Advanced Research Project Agency - Energy; akin to the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency] as a potential solution to this problem. Ultimately, it will depend on the quality of the people who will manage any new program and the discipline of Congress NOT to earmark.

Q. What is your vote for the best role of government in shaping long-term efforts? (Is FutureGen the right kind of model? If not, what is..? is N.I.H. a good model? Is the Energy Department the wrong venue?) A lot of economists say industry is just not able to focus that far forward in R and D. Do you agree?

A. We need to alter the playing field with tax and fiscal polices (such as a carbon cap and trade with a minimum trading value so that companies could plan for sensible, long-term investments). This has to be done in order to account for the so-called “externalities” - real costs that are not yet included in the price of various forms of energy. Developed countries have made this step with air and water pollution by enacting outright regulations and installing a cap and trade system.

Once industry is assured that the bottom will not fall out (such as price of oil, gas, or the trading value of avoided carbon, etc., suddenly plummeting) long-term investments will be made. The wind industry in Denmark and Germany proceeded in this way. Off the top of my head, $70/avoided ton would work wonders in spurring long-term investments and innovation.




NY Times, Dec 5 The New Team Steven Chu/Matthew L. Wald

Being considered for: Energy secretary

Would bring to the job: Impeccable credentials in science management and as an experimental physicist; he shared the 1997 Nobel prize in physics. Dr. Chu, an Asian-American, would also bring diversity to the cabinet.

Is linked to Mr. Obama: In no obvious way.

In his own words: New houses could be made energy efficient with an investment of an extra $1,000, “but the American consumer would rather have a granite countertop.” (At a lecture in Washington on energy options, June 25, 2008)

Used to work as: Chairman of the physics department at Stanford, and head of the electronics research laboratory at Bell Labs. Since 2004, he has been director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which has 4,000 employees and a budget of about $650 million. The lab is owned by the Energy Department and operated under contract by the University of California; Dr. Chu was chosen for the job by the university but approved by the Energy Department. He shifted the lab’s work more heavily into research into advanced biofuels, artificial photosynthesis and other solar energy research. He has been a vocal proponent of vigorous steps to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Carries as baggage: Little experience inside the Beltway or with the main business of the Energy Department, the manufacture and maintenance of nuclear weapons. He has spoken unenthusiastically about the Energy Department’s plan to create a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, a program that enjoys Congressional support, but Mr. Obama has also raised doubts about Yucca.

Also known for: With his team at Bell Labs, using six laser beams to create what he called optical molasses,’ a trap for supercooled atoms. This is the work for which he shared the Nobel Prize.




BP 750 MW Wind Project

HOUSTON, Feb. 28 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- BP Alternative Energy today announced that it has moved into full construction on phase one of the Sherbino Wind Farm located approximately 30 miles east of Fort Stockton in Pecos County, west Texas. Phase one of the project will have a capacity of 150 megawatts (MW) and is being built through a 50-50 joint venture agreement with Padoma Wind Power LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of NRG Energy, Inc. The first phase of the project is expected to come on line in the second half of 2008. Sherbino I will utilize 50 Vestas V-90 wind turbine generators, each with a rated capacity of 3 MW. Initial construction on the 10,000 acre site began last year and at its peak will engage over 100 workers. The project will employ a full-time staff of up to 14 workers who will monitor and maintain the site after phase one has become fully operational. The overall project has a potential capacity of 750 MW, which will generate enough carbon-free electricity to power approximately 225,000 average American homes.

Bob Malone, chairman and president of BP America, said: "BP is growing its wind power portfolio in the U.S. and the Sherbino wind farm in Texas is the latest example of that growth. Wind power is one of America's most abundant natural resources and we believe that turning wind into electricity should be a major part of the nation's drive to increase the use of alternative energy and reduce carbon emissions."

"Zero-fuel, zero-emission wind power is a critical component of RepoweringNRG's efforts to build a diverse fuel generation portfolio that reduces NRG's carbon intensity," said David Crane, president and CEO of NRG Energy. "Padoma and NRG are pleased to partner with BP to combine our collective years of wind development and operations experience."

The project has financially hedged a majority of the output. The physical power generated from phase one of the Sherbino wind project will be delivered into the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) transmission system and sold on the wholesale power market.

This is the second wind project that BP has in construction in Texas. Last year, BP broke ground on the 60 MW Silver Star I Wind Farm located 80 miles southwest of the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. The project is a joint venture development between BP Alternative Energy and Clipper Windpower and is expected to be commercially operational in the second quarter of 2008.

Media Inquiries:
BP Press Office: 202 457-6603
NRG Press Contact: David Knox 713 795 6106

Note to Editors:
Other BP wind projects in the U.S.:

In operation:

Cedar Creek: In January 2008, Babcock & Brown and BP announced full commercial operation of the Cedar Creek wind farm in Weld County, Colorado. The 300.5 MW wind-power facility utilizes 274 wind turbines and was delivered on time, on budget and without a single lost time incident during its construction. Power from the project will be sold under a long-term contract to the Public Service Company of Colorado, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy Inc.

Under construction:

The Fowler Ridge wind farm in Benton County, Indiana is expected to be built in two phases and will generate a total of 750 MW. Dominion and BP are partners for 650 MW, with BP retaining sole ownership of 100 MW. The first phase of 400 MW is expected to be operating by the end of 2008. Power from phase one of the development is under two long-term contracts, each for 100 MW with Indiana Michigan Power and Appalachian Power, both subsidiaries of American Electric Power (AEP). BP also has a long-term power purchase agreement for 200 MW with Dominion. Construction of the second phase of 350 MW could begin as early as 2009.

The Edom Hills wind project in California is the re-powering of an existing 11 MW wind energy facility in the San Gorgonio Pass, which will see 139 windmatics replaced with 8 Clipper Liberty 2.5 MW turbines increasing the power to 20 MW. There is an existing power purchase agreement with Southern California Edison.

About BP America / BP Alternative Energy

BP America is the largest producer of oil and gas in the United States and one of the nation's largest energy investors. BP Alternative Energy, launched in November 2005, combines all of BP's interests in low and zero-carbon power generation: wind, solar, hydrogen power with carbon capture and storage, natural gas-fired power generation, biofuels for low carbon transport, and distributed energy for emerging markets. BP Alternative Energy is one of the leading wind developers in the U.S. and has portfolios in Europe, Asia and Latin America. BP's U.S. wind portfolio includes the opportunity to develop almost 100 projects with a potential total generating capacity of 15,000 MW.


Contact Bruce

Please feel free to contact me with personal correspondence (not spam or invective, thanks) at:
Bruce[underscore]Grossan[at sign]lbl[dot]gov    (anti-spam format email address)

Last Update 2014 December 9