Sunday, April 23, 2006


Some Thoughts on Global Warming and CO2 Capture and Sequestration

Despite all the controversy, which in fact and in tenor largely parallels the “controversy” over evolution, global warming is no longer disputed science. In the last few years, climate scientists around the world have reached the conclusion that the major cause of the current warming is anthropogenic – caused by human activities. Greenhouse gases, including CO2, are the most likely agents of climate change.

Coal, because it is largely formed of carbon, when burned in modern power plants is a major source of CO2. Because of evidence that CO2 emissions are a major contributor to global warming, the power supply industry holds a tentative but generally accepted expectation of a legislated reduction in emissions of CO2, even if there is no consensus as to when. A reasonable expectation is that new coal plants brought on line after 2010 will require some form of reduction in CO2 emissions. The only clearly viable option for reducing CO2 emissions from coal fired power plants is capture and sequestration (CCS).

CCS is expected to add 80% to 90% to the total cost of energy from a new coal plant. This comes in four parts – a reduction in plant capacity of approximately 20%, an increase in the construction cost for the CCS plant, an increase in plant heat rate, and the actual costs of the sequestration.

The most likely method of capture is adsorption on amine molecules, and the most likely method of sequestration is in deep earth formations.

If the costs of CCS are as given above, the total cost of energy out of a new coal plant can be expected to increase as much as 50%, which is pretty much pure guesswork at this point. Until facilities are actually built and operated, all costs are guesstimates.

The thing is, Natural Gas costs will continue to increase. $50/MWh now (energy only) will increase to nearly $100 if gas goes from $6 to $12/mmBtu (likely more) giving total costs in excess of $130/MWh – probably more than new coal with CCS. New coal costs are about $1800/kW and already include SO2, NOX and Hg capture. It will take another $500/kW or so to add CCS.

Finally, adding CO2 capture and sequestration (CCS) to new coal plants is estimated to approximately double the total cost of electricity produced. That is not as terrible as it sounds - doubling means going from 4 cents/kWh to 8 cents. Or maybe 5 cents to 10 cents. The point is, the fuel component alone of electricity fueled by natural gas costs about that much now. The average cost of electricity today is already 5 or 6 cents/kWh. If we replaced the entire existing fleet of coal plants with new plant incorporating CCS would increase costs maybe a third to a half.

IOW, it is very doable.

And, IMO, very likely.

I don't know how long it will take, however, or when it will truly be undertaken as a national priority. Retrofitting is about $500/kW, about the same as the CCS addition to new plant. The real problem is s serious reduction in available capacity with CCS. You lose approximately 1/3 of total capacity to the CCS effort.

Beyond that, there are almost no coal plants built after 1987. The NEWEST coal plants in the fleet are now 20 years old, and most are far older. It is time to build new plant, with or without an oil or NG crisis.

Were we to get started NOW, significant progress could be made in less than a decade.


Monday, April 17, 2006


Some thoughts on belief and faith, part 2

I listened to NPR All Things Considered Commentator, Laurel Snyder, talking about her Jewish and Christian family. She comes from an interfaith marriage, and through a deal struck when her parents married, was raised Jewish. Her marriage is also interfaith. Her comments concerned the blending of the two traditions, and specifically the Passover Seder and Easter.

She said, “I feel upset by interfaith seders, by the attempted blending of faiths; maybe because I am the product of such blending.” And “If I don’t believe something, I might just end up a watered down version of nothing.” Finally, she says “When you blend mysteries of two faiths, what’s left of either?”

So what is left when you blend the traditions of two faiths? Is it true that if you don’t believe something, you might just end up a watered down version of nothing?

I don’t know about traditions. I think that trying to maintain the immediacy and efficacy of a tradition means that you don’t fool with it. However, adding traditions, such as a Christian Passover Seder, yes, I think that is cool.

I do know this - not believing in “something” is not the same as believing in nothing. Faith does not really need an object – a god, or even a pantheon of gods. What WE need is belief that life matters. We all find that where we can.

I’m not completely sure that faith requires even so much as belief that OUR life matters.


Thursday, April 13, 2006


Some thoughts on belief and faith

I have been reading Alan Watts “The Wisdom of Insecurity”, wherein one of the things he talks of is the difference between belief and faith.

The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines the two words this way:

Belief - a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing

Faith - firm belief in something for which there is no proof

They are strangely (to me) similar in the dictionary, yet Watts and I would make this distinction: belief is the insistence that the truth is what one would “leif” or wish it to be, while faith is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be.

The distinction is this, that with respect to the questions that matter, belief defines what that answer must be, while faith requires only that there BE an answer and that the answer be true.

This difference between belief and faith is important because in these polarized times, it is belief that is in ascendance, while faith gets short shrift. We all view the world not as it is, however hard that may be, but through the lens of how we want it to be. We have lots of beliefs and little faith.

The proof is simple, and it is found in one very common thing – how much time we spend discussing, arguing, the bits and pieces of ongoing events, such as the Libby trial, putting a spotlight on our beliefs in post after post, knowing all the while that there will be an answer (probably) and that one side will be bitterly disappointed and one side will rejoice.

Why all the angst? If we are uncovering the truth for all to see, should that not be our article of faith? That whatever the outcome, the truth was discovered, faith realized?

Any time we argue for an end in which we have no part, we prove yet again that belief is not quite the foundation of stone we wish it were. Belief is little more than the shifting sands of our current desires.

Believe what you will. The truth will out.

Eventually. :)


Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Some thoughts on Changing Your Mind about Iraq

The LA Times recently hosted Francis Fukuyama, writing about changing his mind.

Francis Fukuyama on changing his mind

I tried to extract the most important points of the article using Francis’ words, but he proved too concise - to further shrink his words would leave me subject to the “quotes out of context” claim. So, here is part of what he said, but you really need to read the whole article:

SEVEN WEEKS AGO, I published my case against the Iraq war. I wrote that although I had originally advocated military intervention in Iraq, and had even signed a letter to that effect shortly after the 9/11 attacks, I had since changed my mind.

But apparently this kind of honest acknowledgment is verboten. In the weeks since my book came out, I've been challenged, attacked and vilified from both ends of the ideological spectrum. From the right, columnist Charles Krauthammer has accused me of being an opportunistic traitor to the neoconservative cause — and a coward to boot. From the left, I've been told that I have "blood on my hands" for having initially favored toppling Saddam Hussein and that my "apology" won't be accepted.

In my view, no one should be required to apologize for having supported intervention in Iraq before the war. There were important competing moral goods on both sides of the argument, something that many on the left still refuse to recognize. … The debate over the war shouldn't have been whether it was morally right to topple Hussein (which it clearly was), but whether it was prudent to do so given the possible costs and potential consequences of intervention and whether it was legitimate for the U.S. to invade in the unilateral way that it did.

But in the years since then, it is the right that has failed to come to terms with these uncomfortable facts. The failure to find WMD and to make a quick transition to a stable democracy — as well as the prisoner abuse and the inevitable bad press that emerges from any prolonged occupation — have done enormous damage to America's credibility and standing in the world….

The logic of my prewar shift on invading Iraq has now been doubly confirmed. I believe that the neoconservative movement, with which I was associated, has become indelibly associated with a failed policy, and that unilateralism and coercive regime change cannot be the basis for an effective American foreign policy. …

What has infuriated many people is President Bush's unwillingness to admit that he made any mistakes whatsoever in the whole Iraq adventure….

… Instead of trying to defend sharply polarized positions taken more than three years ago, it would be far better if people could actually take aboard new information and think about how their earlier commitments, honestly undertaken, actually jibe with reality — even if this does on occasion require changing your mind.

Francis speaks from a unique viewpoint – or at least it once was unique. There seem to be more and more post 9/11 pro-war voices who are now rethinking the whole Iraq invasion and occupation thing. Many of them do not claim, as Francis does, that the war was a bad idea, that “democratizing Iraq and the Mideast might come to look like empire”, but rather, as Bill Buckley says. “It didn’t work”. Bill’s final words on the subject are “… within their own counsels, different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat.” Not that Bill thinks the goal was wrong, or even the tactics, just that we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, apply appropriate measures to accomplish our goal. Measures such as we used on Hiroshima and Dresden. Or perhaps he meant instituting the draft; he really isn’t very clear on the subject.

The trouble the left has (is there a “left” anymore? I think of the left as everything different from the right) is that Francis and Bill say the cause is lost but don’t admit that it was a MILITARY invasion that failed. They don’t renounce war as a tool of regime change. Bill explicitly reserves the right to invade another country in an attempt to plant democracy (he calls it maintaining American idealism - the same idealism that invaded Iraq in the first place), while Francis is more circumspect – he says only that we should have had the full support of the UN, that “… no one should be required to apologize for having supported intervention in Iraq before the war.” Which the Bill thing is funny, if you think about it. The last two regime changes we attempted, Afghanistan and Iraq, ended up instituting Sharia as the law of the land – and Bill thinks we need to go back and talk to the Afghani’s more, so that they understand that when AMERICA brings you democracy, you better by Gawd have a special place in your heart for Christians. Even if they are apostate Muslims.

Mind you, I have no problems with apostasy.

Francis doesn’t get it, Bill doesn’t get it, none of them get it. Ok, Francis does come close – he says “unilateralism and coercive regime change cannot be the basis for an effective American foreign policy.” Does that mean he now believes that invasion and occupation are not the best method for planting democracy?

I don’t know what he believes, but that is what I believe, and believed back then.

Changing your mind when the facts don’t support your beliefs is a good thing. I think there are a lot of us who might give it a try.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Some thoughts on appeasement

I stand accused of appeasement – and I have no clue why. I must have written something that suggests I am for appeasement, but if I did, I do not recall those words, nor can I find them.

Perhaps because I am anti-war, and particularly opposed to the Iraq war and nuking Iran, then I must, by extension, be for appeasement. What is this appeasement thing, anyway? Are there but two alternatives, war or appeasement? Are sanctions, being not-war, appeasement? Is the only way to deal with madmen such as Ahmadinejad to nuke them?

If there are other alternatives to war that are not appeasement, was the Iraq war necessary, or could it be best described as Churchill described WWII, as an unnecessary war? It is true that I think of the Iraq war as an unnecessary war.

Here's a Churchill quote on appeasement: "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile - hoping it will eat him last."

It seems to me I can't accurately be described as an appeaser, as the loudest criticism of my position is that, because I believe the Iraq war is a mistake and don’t want to nuke Iran, I don’t care about the safety of the citizens of this country. It is true that I consider some risk of terrorism on American soil as unavoidable. I also think the Iraq war has not reduced that risk one iota.

Perhaps appeasement comes in many guises. Perhaps appeasement is just one of many acts of willful blindness to the actual risks that will result from whatever choices are made. Chamberlain, for example, was willfully blind to the likely outcome of the Munich Agreement.

In the same vein, I think pro-war voices in this country are willfully blind to the likely outcome of their choices - more risk of terrorism here in the US, and everywhere else, not less.

If there is willful blindness in this country, it is in feeding the crocodile of war the children of other nations, hoping against hope that it will not eat ours.

Or at least not more than a few thousand here and there.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?