Texas School Board and Creationism

So I finally got the scoop about the impact of the election cycle from my colleague Paul Murray, an exploration geophysicist at the Bureau of Economic Geology.

Essentially nothing happened in the election. The Texas Board of Education is status quo, split 7 modestly liberal Democrats, 7 fundamentalists and one conservative not entirely fundamentalist. It could have been worse, but it’s still pretty bad. Note that the district boundaires are tragically gerrymandered; note the bizarre boundaries tending to slice the urban areas into shreds.

A great deal of strum and dang (Texas for sturm und drang) is going into affecting the swing vote in setting educational standards in biology in Texas. Of course the pseudo-rational fundamentalists are trying to “teach the controversy”. Paul attended a meeting of the board last week and he will keep me posted about the next one. Hopefully I will be able to take the day off and act like a good reporter, since this is one of the biggest science/public policy issues around and it’s happening locally. Paul is not satisfied with the local reporting, but this editorial in the Statesman, I think , gives the flavor of the situation.

Standards are revisited in Texas on a decadal basis. Whatever these people decide is going to be the truth in Texas schools for ten years.

(Note: Texas has 8998 public schools serving 4.5 million students according to this site. De facto Texas strongly influences the textbooks for much of the country, i.e., most of the red states.)

Unfortunately these meetings do go on. Paul tells me the last one started at 9 AM and lasted until 11 PM. True journalism requires a strong stomach; putting up with fourteen hours of fundamentalist jive talk…


The peridotite solution

Here’s a remarkable sequestration mechanism that seems ideal for our needs. A single wedge, even a single site solution.

The researchers have shown that rock formations called peridotite, which are found in Oman and several other places worldwide, including California and New Guinea, produce calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate rock when they come into contact with carbon dioxide. The scientists found that such formations in Oman naturally sequester hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide a year. Based on those findings, the researchers, writing in the current early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, calculate that the carbon-sequestration rate in rock formations in Oman could be increased to billions of tons a year–more than the carbon emissions in the United States from coal-burning power plants, which come to 1.5 billion tons per year.

The researchers found that the natural peridotite formations in Oman captured carbon dioxide in a network of underground veins. Peridotite contains large amounts of olivine, a mineral composed of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. As groundwater reacts with the olivine, the water becomes rich in dissolved magnesium and bicarbonate, with the latter effectively increasing the carbon concentration in the water by about 10 times. As this water seeps deeper into the rock and stops reacting with the air, the magnesium, carbon, and oxygen precipitate out of solution and form magnesium carbonate, also called magnesite. Dolomite, which contains calcium, magnesium, carbon, and oxygen, also forms. As the magnesite and dolomite form, they increase the total volume of the rock by about 44 percent, causing cracks to appear throughout it, which creates a network of fractures as small as 50 micrometers across. This opens up the rock and allows water to penetrate further. “It’s a little bit like setting a coal seam on fire,” says Peter Kelemen, a professor of earth and environmental studies at Columbia University. “You’re taking rocks that haven’t been exposed to the atmosphere, and you’re oxidizing them very fast.”

Many a slip twixt cup and lip of course, but (to scramble metaphors) maybe there is a silver bullet after all. I’d love to see this work at scale. Most of the commenters on the linked Technology Review so far tend to disagree, choosing to worry about the local ecosystem. How do In It readers feel, I wonder?

Update: Here’s the peer-reviewed article that Tech Review ought to have cited, with thanks to David Benson.

Update: Here’s a similar article at Popular Mechanics.

Ozone Treaty and Secondary GHG Protocols

Hey, I can be a lazy journalist too! I’m pasting a press release (minus contact info) here in case anybody finds it interesting.

Basically it seems to amount to good news on the non-CO2 emissions front. (Besides, it says “Montreal” several times, which is always a good thing.)

Ozone Treaty Parties Agree to Start Cutting More Climate Emissions

Doha, Qatar, 20 November 2008 – Today the 193 Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer—representing virtually all countries of the world—agreed for the second year in a row to strengthen their treaty to provide additional protection for both the ozone layer and the climate system.

The Parties will start collecting and destroying ozone-depleting substance from stockpiles and from discarded products and equipment that are the easiest to reach. These “reachable” substances will be emitted by 2015 without action through the Montreal Protocol. Destroying them will speed recovery of the ozone layer by up to two years, and avoid up to 6 billion tonnes or more of CO2-eq. in climate emissions. An additional 14 or more billion tonnes of CO2-eq. could be emitted later from these sources unless further action is taken.

Argentina first proposed destroying the stockpiles and “banks” of substances in discarded products and equipment. Micronesia and Mauritius also proposed collecting and destroying banks because this can provide fast climate mitigation and help avoid passing thresholds for abrupt climate changes, including the disintegration of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which would lead to many meters of sea level rise and threaten all low-lying island and coastal countries.

Romina Picolotti, Argentina’s Minister of Environment, stated, “We recognize the importance of near term climate mitigation, as well as long term mitigation, and believe the 6 billion tonnes of CO2-eq. in banks that will otherwise be emitted by 2015 is a critical target we can address today.” She praised the Montreal Protocol Parties for their “cooperative spirit and their ability to act fast” and stated that “the Montreal Protocol is a model for the world.” (For comparison, Parties to the Kyoto climate treaty are trying to reduce their climate emissions by 1 billion tonnes per year below 1990 levels during the treaty’s initial commitment period from 2008 to 2012.)

The developed country Parties to the Montreal Protocol also agreed to provide $490 million in additional funding over three years to assist developing country Parties meet their treaty obligations. This includes initial funding to immediately begin pilot projects for collection and destruction of the “reachable” banks. The Parties directed the treaty secretariat to explore co-financing, including the carbon markets.

The Parties also agreed to begin discussions on whether to move hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, from the climate treaty to the stricter Montreal Protocol, where HFCs with a high global warming potential could be phased-out. HFCs are substitutes for substances that are being phased-out by the Montreal Protocol, and are projected to grow at an alarming rate.

Moving HFCs to the Montreal Protocol could pave the way for moving the four other non-CO2 gases in the climate treaty to separate protocols, where they could be more strictly controlled. “Removing the five non-CO2 gases would still leave the climate treaty to do the lion’s share of climate mitigation,” said Durwood Zaelke, the President of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. Zaelke added that, “the advantage of ‘disaggregating’ the climate problem this way would be to allow separate governance structures that could strictly regulate each of the non-CO2 gases.”

Antonio Oposa, representing Micronesia, stated, “This could provide faster climate mitigation in many cases, which is what the island countries need to survive.” He added, “There is a clear and present danger of abrupt and catastrophic climate changes in the near future. In the face of these threats, we must act not only with a sense of urgency, but a sense of emergency.”

The Montreal Protocol has successfully phased out more than 95 percent of 97 ozone-depleting substances since it began in 1987. Because many substances that deplete ozone also warm the climate, the Montreal Protocol has delayed climate change by up to 12 years through the mitigation of 135 billion tonnes of CO2-eq between 1990 and 2010. Last September, the Parties took their first step towards becoming a more explicit climate treaty, in a decision praised by Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, as “perhaps the most important breakthrough in an international environmental negotiation process for at least five or six years.”

In July 2008, the 17 Major Economies recognized the need for urgent action under the Montreal Protocol for the benefit of the global climate system and committed to take such action. Today’s decisions follow through on this commitment to climate protection.

Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development
INECE Secretariat
2300 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 300B
Washington, DC 20007

The Worst Noel: Celebrating Recession

One thing that’s always disappointed me about the growth imperative is how the Christmas season is described based on gross sales. OK, that’s sad enough in itself but consider that a season is described as “disappointing” if it grows less than the average growth rate. As far as I know, none of the recent “disappointing” Christmases has actually amounted to a decrease in economic activity over the previous year. As far as I know, there has been positive growth in US Christmastime sales for as long as the growth imperative has been in place.

Maybe I will be the first to say this publicly, but probably this Christmas will be different.

Because the growth imperative flies in the face of reality, the time will come when the “disappointing” Christmas will actually amount to a retreat. Likely we are entering that time at this very moment. It will be interesting to see badly we cope; how badly we are dependent on our growth addiction. Oil addiction is just a symptom; we have blundered into a situation where the unsustainable is a core of our social organization.

Maybe the stupidity of the financial sector has done us a service by hastening the day of reckoning. We need to cope with sustainability. This is not that big a deal for most individuals (I think we’ll still have individual competition and individual wealth) but its a radical change for the society as a whole.

Will anybody be talking about this if the first “terrible” Christmas is upon us?

McCain Rediscovers his Menschlichkeit

A little more electoral politics, which is off topic for this blog; apologies to regular readers. This stuff will end forthwith, but in addition to celebrating the Obama victory, I thought it might be worthwhile to acknowledge the beautiful, gracious concession speech from John McCain, trying to rediscover his inner mensch. In fact his speech, to my great surprise. moved me more than did Obama’s excellent victory speech.

If only McCain the Mensch had been in the campaign, instead of the weird snarky sleepy angry guy and his comedy-horrorshow of a running mate, if only they had not resorted to tactics of fear, distortion and last-minute juvenile pranks, perhaps his supporters might have been in more of a mood to hear these stirring words. (On the other hand, we might have been plunged into yet another nightmare tie-game. Until the actual nuts and bolts of voting are updated into something sensible, America is better off when its elections are decisive.)

So, while it’s impossible to be grateful to McCain for the disgraceful way he conducted himself during the campaign, we can at least temper our memories of him with gratitude for his gesture at the end:

I’ve always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that, too. But we both recognize that though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation’s reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound.

A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt’s invitation of Booker T. Washington to visit — to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African American to the presidency of the United States. Let there be no reason now — (cheers, applause) — let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth. (Cheers, applause.)

Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country. I applaud him for it, and offer in my sincere sympathy that his beloved grandmother did not live to see this day, though our faith assures us she is at rest in the presence of her creator and so very proud of the good man she helped raise.

Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed. No doubt many of those differences remain. These are difficult times for our country, and I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.

I urge all Americans — (applause) — I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences, and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.

I would not — I would not be an — an American worthy of the name, should I regret a fate that has allowed me the extraordinary privilege of serving this country for a half a century. Today, I was a candidate for the highest office in the country I love so much. And tonight, I remain her servant. That is blessing enough for anyone and I thank the people of Arizona for it. (Cheers, applause.)

Tonight — tonight, more than any night, I hold in my heart nothing but love for this country and for all its citizens, whether they supported me or Senator Obama — whether they supported me or Senator Obama, I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.

And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties but to believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.

Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history, we make history.

Thank you, and God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you all very much.

If I have the ear of any McCain voters I urge them to take the senator’s words to heart.


Blogger ate my pompous posting in a very weird way. I swear it was made up of complete sentences when I saw it last. I even thought it might be coherent. This happened when I tried to move the images around! Here is what is left of three complete paragraphs, fished from an HTML image tag. (I added the last word, “promise” back in manually.)

Maybe it’s better this way. Anyway I am happy tonight.

” good=”” thing=”” when=”” actually=”” loves=”” makes=”” things=”” possible=”” otherwise=”” child=”” last=”” much=”” america=”” truly=”” loved=”” anyone=”” might=”” consider=”” deserving=”” john=”” had=”” privilege=”” living=”” such=”” myself=”” few=”” later=”” montreal=”” during=”” trudeau=”” very=”” happy=”” saw=”” see=”” was=”” canada=”” its=”” subsequent=”” years=”” my=”” native=”” land=”” borne=”” mostly=”” all=”” charismatic=”” leadership=”” pierre=”” elliott=”” unlike=”” does=”” rise=”” power=”” auspicious=”” knows=”” taking=”” on=”” huge=”” will=”” succeed=”” without=”” every=”” ounce=”” goodwill=”” country=”” world=”” muster=”” those=”” that=”” find=”” meaning=”” in=”” prayer=”” praying=”” the=”” rest=”” us=”” at=”” least=”” fervently=”” wish=”” him=”” though=”” can=”” as=”” piet=”” hein=”” pointed=”” should=”” hope=”” it=”” time=”” get=”” past=”” petty=”” jealousies=”” pull=”” together=”” for=”” barack=”” obama=”” has=”” yet=”” shown=”” himself=”” be=”” he=”” obviously=”” not=”” only=”” brilliant=”” but=”” i=”” think=”” an=”” ability=”” to=”” inspire=”” young=”” people=”” rare=”” and=”” precious=”” we=”” have=”” reached=”” is=”” a=”” moment=”” of=”” great=”” promise

Calling out around the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat
Summer’s here and the time is right
For dancing in the streets
Dancing in Chicago
Down in New Orleans
In New York City

All we need is music, sweet music
There’ll be music everywhere
They’ll be swinging, swaying, records playing,
Dancing in the street, oh

It doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there
So come on, every guy, grab a girl, everywhere, around the world
They’ll be dancing, dancing in the street

It’s an invitation across the nation, a chance for folks to meet
They’ll be laughing and singing and music swinging
Dancing in the street

Philadelphia, PA
Baltimore and DC now
Don’t forget that motor city
On the streets of Brazil
Back in the USSR
No matter where you are

All we need is music, sweet music
There’ll be music everywhere
They’ll be swinging, swaying, records playing
Dancing in the street, oh

It doesn’t matter what you wear
Just as long as you are there
So come on every guy, grab a girl, everywhere, around the world
They’ll be dancing, dancing in the streets

Way down in L.A., everyday
Dancing in the streets
Cross in China too
Me and you
Dancing in the street

Don’t you know
They’ll be dancing
Dancing in the street (repeat)

Update: Although I have come to appreciate Texas, there are times now and again when I deeply miss Chicago, presently the greatest city in the Western hemisphere. Election night was especially bittersweet.

More wonderful victory images at Huffington’s here and here.