Shovel Ready

Please, sir, may we have another?

(CNN) — A NASA satellite crashed back to Earth about three minutes after launch early Tuesday, officials said.

“We could not make orbit,” NASA program manager John Brunschwyler said. “Initial indications are the vehicle did not have enough [force] to reach orbit and landed just short of Antarctica in the ocean.”

“Certainly for the science community, it’s a huge disappointment.”

The $273 million satellite, called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, would have collected global measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere to help better forecast changes in carbon-dioxide levels and their effect on the Earth’s climate.

Hard luck for sure. We all need this thing, and the clean coal people need it especially. Look at the bright side: it’s expensive! Plus, all the bureaucratic snags have already been cleared once. It’s shovel ready!

I guess rewarding NASA for this is like sending money to bank managers in gratitude for them destroying the banks, though. Maybe we can outsource the launch vehicle to the French or the Chinese?

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Burnt Orange and Green

A typical Texas intersection
(I’m not exaggerating quite as much as you think I am,
there are literally dozens of intersections on this scale in and around the five biggest cities):


Update on the image above: I should also point out for the non-Texan reader that Texas “urban” (I use the term in its loose southwestern sense) expressways are typically six lanes wide, and paralleled by two-lane one-way commercial streets for a total of ten lanes in four distinct paths. Where two of these expressways cross, it is a requirement that each of the eight crossing paths not only continue but have a path to each of the others for a total of 64 paths; of which twenty-four (the four right turns and the four U turns on the service roads, and all crossings from an express path to an express path) are expected to be unencumbered by stops. In order that I not get too acclimated to this nonsense I insist on calling the U-turns “Texas U-Turns”.

What you see in the picture is the canonical intersection between two large Texas roads. Similar structures are being built and planned daily to replace that hideous inconvenience, the traffic light. For instance, there is currently a vast project to eliminate the embarassment of the possibility of as many as three stops on the stretch of Highway 183 between the airport and I-35. Clearly an expenditure in the neighborhood of tens of millions of dollars to replace a traffic light is a wise expenditure of funds, which may explain the state of the Texas school system. Not to mention the bike routes. Or not. I’m new here. Who the hell am I to say?

On the plus side my commute to work will only take seven minutes, provided I own a car.


Morning Edition, November 26, 2007 · Texas emits more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other state. And if Texas were a country, it would be the seventh-largest carbon dioxide polluter in the world. More…

Although second in population to California by a wide margin, Texas has higher emissions.

Texas has a much higher per capita carbon emission rate than other large states, but that is because emissions in mining and refining are attributed to the state with the facility, though they should be charged to the end user of the energy. It’s awfully inefficient here and in some circles conservation is actually frowned upon. Yet it’s not quite as bad as the statistics indicate.

Texas somehow is just an energy nexus. After all that coasting on oil wealth, and the weird Enron incident, now it turns out we are at the continental sweet spot for wind energy, and vast windfarms are sprouting on the high plains.

This proves there’s no justice, I suppose.

A related NPR story goes a long way toward explaining the Texas aesthetic.

Wind energy is transforming the landscape here. Look in nearly any direction from Roscoe and you can see the white towers of wind turbines rising into the cerulean sky like giant candlesticks. The sight of rotating white blades on a distant mesa is now as common as bobbing pump jacks.

Although people in other parts of the nation say the 400-foot-tall structures are unsightly, people around Roscoe have a different view.

“My wife and I talked about this the other day. We were coming in from church, and she said, ‘You know, at first I really thought they were kind of trashy looking,'” says Daylon Althof, a farmer who has one turbine going up on his land. “But she said, ‘The more I see these going up, they’re kind of beautiful because we know what they’re going to provide for the economy around here.'”

I always have found them beautiful.

Airline Mag: Green Edition

Hi, y’all, from beautiful Montreal (that’s in Southern Canada, you understand), where it is unseasonably warm and sunny today. The trees seem a bit paler and less spectacular than usual this autumn, too… hmm….

I’m a bit out of the loop this week, what with the excitement of launching Correlations (come on over and give me some grief…) and visiting with family. So my main report for this week is that there’s so much global warming in the press right now (I don’t usually look at newsstands except when I’m stuck in an airport) that my head spins. I may have more to say soon, but for now I’ll report that even the American Airlines in-flight magazine is featuring a green issue and an article about green guilt.

It was interesting how the author (Mark Henricks, a fellow Austinite feller) went on about light bulbs and such (not to mention bamboo flooring and recycled plastic bathmats) and nevertheless managed to shrug off the environmental impact of aviation with an unchallenged quote.

But air travel probably gets more attention than it deserves, says Arnold. While flying does have an impact, especially with regard to carbon emissions, it does not have nearly the negative effect that other carbon contributors do. For instance, he considers coal-fi red electricity-generating plants a much more serious problem. “Aviation is a minor part,” Arnold says. “For certain travelers, it’s an issue, but globally, it’s only about 2 percent of the problem.”

Right, but, um, aren’t those ‘certain travelers’ the ones who use airplanes?

In fact, George Monbiot has pointed out that aviation is the only part of modern life where no non-GHG intensive substitute was foreseeable. I can’t find that right now but a typical anti-aviation rant of his is here. It’s not easy to shoot this down, unfortunately. I much prefer to drive or Amtrak even as far as Chicago, but Montreal-Austin is quite a shlep and I see no escape from making this particular type of journey twice a year anytime soon.

So it was weird reading an article actually entitled “green guilt” on an in flight magazine on an airplane, which pretty much told me to feel guilty about bathmats and not about flying.