Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fools rush in.

By the looks of the low spot behind the house, we might have experienced a micro-climate frost this morning. I can see sun shining less than 20 feet uphill from what looks like frost-whitened grasses. Our low temperature, at a slightly higher elevation, was in the mid-30s, so I can believe there might have been a "soft" frost, or not. Since our average first frost usually occurs within the next ten or twelve days, we seem to be generally on schedule.

wind farm, southwestern Minnesota
wind farm, southwestern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday, I mentioned coming across a reference to a desire for a sketch of more sustainable Minnesota. Later, as I was walking the dogs, I finally remembered where I had seen it (confirming the theory that a good way to remember something is to not think about it). Specifically, Scott Strand, ED at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, blogged "we need some kind of honest shared visualization of what a decent future looks like" in regard to climate change, air pollution and water pollution. Keep in mind William Gibson's observation that "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." (To which I would add: "nor is it being well tended to.") Much of what we can sketch of a future has been around for a while, in one form or another, just not very evenly distributed.

I wouldn't presume to offer a fully developed, shared solution, but I'm foolish and hardy enough to sketch out some of my thoughts and see if they generate any kind of response. If enough folks like any of the ideas presented, we get to the beginning of a shared vision. In polite circles this is referred to as the start of a dialogue, or, even better, a conversation, something sadly lacking in most of our political discourse these days.

Since I'm a firm believer that everything is related to everything else, some things more directly than others, I'm going to start by suggesting we need to start our conversation from a premise that we need to do more systems thinking, including better and more frequent use of integrative design as an an ongoing process for creating and implementing our vision. We need to focus on solutions that do good instead of settling for doing less bad (Cradle to Cradle). We need to seriously incorporate the four Natural Step system conditions for a sustainable society into our conversations. Those are the ultimate system constraints we're faced with. Here's an example that begins to respond to the climate change and air particulates concerns Scott raised.

solar panels, northeastern Minnesota
solar panels, northeastern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

ENERGY VISION: In the foreseeable future, Minnesota will become free from using fossil fuels and will be powered solely by distributed energy, generated primarily from renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, at community-based networked facilities. Electric car batteries and related storage technologies will play an increasing role as supplemental sources.(The internet, and its development, is a "mental model" for this kind of system.) To achieve this vision, Minnesota will need to change its Public Utilities Commission's mindset and decision-making processes, not easy but doable. We will also need to revise or eliminate zoning or land use controls that would inhibit neighborhood energy facilities. Attaining this vision will be a major response to climate change and, by ultimately eliminating the need for and use of diesel engines, will eventually eliminate a major source of fine air particulates. Creating, installing, maintaining and replacing our energy system over time will create many new types of jobs, so the state's universities and community and technical college systems will need to work with existing businesses and entrepreneurs. Significant changes in the way society underwrites and finances power production and transmission facilities will be needed, creating opportunities for risk sharing, job creation and new sources of profit for Minnesota's financial sector. Minnesota's Iron Range could become a leadership center, through creative partnerships, that develops, tests and adapts electric power technology for heavy industrial and agricultural and, ultimately, over-the-road use. That's not a complete picture, but it's a start. We can take a similar approach to other systems, food production being another example. Our purpose here isn't to get everything perfect as we sketch scenarios. Those details can come later. Let's see if we can take the proverbial "broad brush" and paint some kind of picture of the future we'd like, instead of spending as much energy as we do fighting about what we don't agree about. Since the US military acknowledges that climate change presents national security threats, maybe some creative, political soul could successfully approach DARPA for funding of some parts of this system.

[UPDATE: Several hours after today's blog posting was uploaded, the guardian published the story linked below, which reads to me like an argument for replacing our current generation / transmission system.

World's energy systems at risk from global warming, say leading firms

Lines from the Reports of the Investigative Committees

By Joel Brouwer 
The Department of the Interior and Department of Homeland Security announced a joint enquiry into the explosion and sinking of the Transocean Deepwater Horizon on April 22. The us House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources have also announced investigations.
    Last week bp launched its own investigation into the incident and has an investigation team at work in Houston, Texas.
—, April 28, 2010

Beneath three thousand feet, the sea is wholly dark.
The shuttle feeds hydraulics to the blind shear ram
and represents a single failure point for disconnect.
Recommendation: Declare selected points on earth
invisible. Affected communities have been provided
with limited quantities of powdered milk
and other staples. Many questions remain. Some
close their eyes under water instinctively.
Imagination can create a sense of peril where
no real peril exists. Safety equipment tests
were necessarily imaginary; mechanisms in question
were wholly inaccessible. A journalist sinking
into the mud was told to toss his camera
to a colleague and hold extremely still. In this
sense, we are our own prisoners. Investigators
have salt in their hair and sand in their teeth.
The hotel pool is empty. Yet questions remain.
Barbeque billboards depict grinning pigs in aprons
and toques. Cleanup crews recover thousands
of plastic milk jugs from the shallows. Do these
images appeal to the death drive? Care should be
taken to ensure the highest possible reliability
from that valve. Thousands in affected communities
have been evicted and live in tents. Demonstrators
have prevented investigators from accessing
hotel stairwells. 1900: Rudolf Diesel
demonstrates an engine fueled by peanut oil
at the Paris World’s Fair. The Vietnamese owner
of Bad Bob’s bbq Buffet tells a journalist
she last drank powdered milk in a refugee camp
“a thousand years ago.” Items available only
in limited quantities are found in Appendix C.
Cleanup crews have stacked thousands of drums
of dispersant in hotel parking lots. Dominant
failure combinations for well control suggest
additional safety mechanism diversity
and redundancy provide additional reliability.
Bank of America will offer limited foreclosure
deferments in affected communities. Thousands
of years ago, a pronghorn ram slipped beneath
the surface of a tar pit, jerking its snout
for air. Recommendation: Live at inaccessible
elevations. Recommendation: Close your eyes.
Recommendation: Prevent access to the invisible.
Engineering reports noted required safety
mechanisms were unlikely to function yet were
required for safety’s sake. If the committee
may offer an analogy, a blind surgeon is dangerous,
an imaginary surgeon harmless. Still, questions
remain. BP’s 2010 Q1 replacement cost profit
was $5,598 million, compared with $2,387 million
a year ago, an increase of 135%. Unlimited
quantities of peanuts are available. However,
care must be taken to ensure continued high
reliability of the shuttle valve, since it is
extremely critical to the overall disconnect
operation. Phenomena not meant to be accessed
or imagined are found in Appendix E. Cleanup crews
are sometimes idled for lack of fuel. 1913: Diesel
found dead, drowned under suspicious circumstances.
The investigators’ hotel toilets won’t flush.
Midas turned everything he touched to gold.
In this sense, seabirds cloaked in oil are rich.
Cleanup crews live in tents and are provided
with limited quantities of barbeque and wear
white canvas jumpsuits like prisoners on furlough.
If the committee may offer an analogy, the death
drive resides at wholly dark depths of imagination
and fuel issues from a wound we’ve opened there.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.