Paul Birkeland

Paul Birkeland

Posts by This Writer

10 years 1 month ago

Here's one that probably slipped your attention.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association, together with the International Business Aviation Council and a long list of its members, recently announced a series of measures to dramatically reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

The announcement stated that business aviation has improved fuel efficiency by 40 percent over as many years and that the community's carbon emissions represent about two percent of all aviation and .04 percent of the world's carbon emissions attributable to human activity.

Through GAMA,...

10 years 1 month ago

I have never been convinced that it's even possible to do nuclear power "right." I still don't think there is if you are talking about uranium fueled reactors. More on that another time. Meanwhile, I never thought I'd be saying this, but I've learned a few things that make me think that we ought to go nuclear after all.

Thorium (element number 90) reactors were first investigated in the 1950s at the Oak Ridge National Lab. Thorium is naturally radioactive and makes wonderfully efficient nuclear power plants. It requires much less processing than uranium to be useful...

10 years 1 month ago

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10 years 1 month ago

The UN published an eye-catching and educational graphic that illustrates society’s sources of carbon emissions as well as the use that generated those emissions and the kind of emissions they are. You can pull a boatload of surprises off this one. Here are a few that surprised me. (All values are computed based on CO2 equivalent tonnage.)

  1. Energy Consumption accounts for only 61.4% of total...

10 years 2 months ago

Food miles have come into vogue as a way of assessing the sustainability of our production systems. Food miles are good, but it helps to turn it around too, and take a look at how much food it would take to keep society functioning. In hunter/gatherer times a very simple equation governed our food supply. Basically the amount of energy you got from your food had to be more than the amount of energy you spent getting it. Oh, we cooked it at times, and preserved it in various ways. But overall that equation had to hold.

We blew that constraint out of the water when fossil fuels were discovered. But now here comes the rub: we can’t...

10 years 2 months ago

So Massachusetts brought the sky down on the Democratic majority in the US Senate. And a body that was at best dysfunctional is now considered non-functional. The gloom-and-doomers are writing the obituary for a cap and trade system in the US. Well, cowboy up! I don’t think we should write it off so easily.

First of all, the Obama Administration seems to have gotten its religion back. President Obama won the 2008 election by offering “hope.” As the economy cratered in the Fall of 2008, hope became an even more resonant message. But it wasn’t hope that we could pull the economy out of a quagmire. It wasn’t hope that we could save the automakers. It wasn’t...

10 years 2 months ago

The US Department of Energy has an aggressive Industrial Technologies Program (ITP) for at least two reasons. First, energy efficiency is clearly going to be a competitive edge over the coming years. But equally important is that 75% of US energy consumption is done by industrial and commercial users. Put another way, reducing industrial and commercial energy use by 33% is equivalent to making every home in the US a 'net zero' home, requiring no outside energy input. And it's a lot easier. It is at least within the realm of possibility.

This is the reason...

10 years 2 months ago

Human dominance on Earth is largely due to our heavily evolved brains. But our brains may be the death of us yet. Unless CSR steps up to its promise.

How can half the US public deny climate change at a time when the scientific consensus has solidified around its reality? And, more importantly, what can we do about it? Some new psychological studies explain it.

Jon Krosnick of Stanford University wrote that people only take problems seriously if they feel they can be solved. If the problem seems unsolvable, we find ways to rationalize it away. In Loss and Climate Change...

10 years 2 months ago

The US has an influential “populist” center that is hard for people outside the US to understand. Hey, it’s hard for a lot of people IN the US to understand. But the gist is this: Populism is neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal nor conservative. It swings back and forth. It is based on the belief (or feeling) that "we," the producers and wage-earners, are taxed by the Government to provide handouts to "Big Business" and to the "underclass" of non-workers, whoever they are seen as being at the time (poor whites, immigrants, minorities, etc.)

Cap-and-trade plays into this Populist paranoia. It sets up a situation where, to the Populist, it...

10 years 3 months ago

There's an insidious vision, at least here in the US, that if we just all buy electric vehicles, put up enough wind turbines, and brew enough biofuels, that we will be able to just go on living the way we are living while reducing our emissions, and not worry about the climate. The vision's insidious because it is pretty much the unspoken assumption to everything we do, even amongst otherwise aware and conscientious people.

Well, it's not such a good vision. At least not in biofuels. There are some very strange dynamics to the biofuel industry.

Right now, most biofuel in the US comes from corn. We've got a lot of it after all, and it's got a high...