Texas Branding (*)
This year’s Blog Action Day is about “clean water for everyone”, and that’s easily within the realm of topics covered here. There’s a lot of concern about clean water in remote, undeveloped areas, and I certainly support that, but I don’t have much to add.
So, if the ground water is depleted, if the watershed is inadequate, if two million San Antonians will live on, where does the water come from?
Well, my dog food calculations went awry, as Richard Reiss pointed out in the comments. I slipped a digit.
To recall, there have been recent allegations that having a dog does as much damage as driving a large SUV, on account of the carnivorous habits of the dog. Now there’s some question as to how much of the damage due to meat should be attributed to the dog, but even given a proportionate impact by weight, I found at a rough cut that supporting the dog was the equivalent of driving the SUV no more than 5 miles per day. It turns out that my particular calculation was wrong by an order of magnitude, and that it has to be corrected, but it needs to be corrected AWAY from the calculations of Vale & Vale, in favor of the dog. Even fed a diet of sirloin, it appears that the dog’s daily impact is on the order of driving about a half mile.
But this leaves me in a quandary. My prior result was in the same ballpark as Eshel & Martin’s famous result that personal transportation and personal food consumption in the US are of comparable scale insofar as greenhouse gas impact is concerned. Counting the human as triple the dog, and the vehicle thus as driven 15 miles per day, seemed consistent with that estimate. But now I’m left at a loss, since the meat impact is now coming out as tiny.
And now here comes a Worldwatch white paper claiming that meat dominates transportation!
This level of confusion is ridiculous. How the hell are we supposed to cap and trade stuff that we have such a fuzzy grasp of?
Let’s revisit the fuzziest numbers in my calculation. I erred by a factor of 10 in the power consumption of the vehicle going at 40 mph, which I took to be 10KW but was listed at 100KW. The first number seemed more plausible to me, but it;s easy to check. Let’s suppose the vehicle is getting 20 mpg. Then it is consuming two gallons of gasoline per hour. Googling “energy per gallon of gasoline” is immediately successful, yielding US gallon = 115000 Btu = 121 MJ along with another handy energy conversion reference page. So I get 33,700 W, neatly splitting the difference between the small number I expected and the large number I should have used!
OK, now it’s an extra factor of 3 in favor of the dog (compared with prior calculations). A dog eating ribeye steaks is worth about two miles of SUV travel daily; a human about six.
The per capita mileage in Martin & Eshel was 200 per week, supposedly compatable to human impact, so I have only a factor of five to make up. Still a bit awkward. (Update: And half of that comes back because most people aren’t riding SUVs. As Marcus points out in the comments, some of that comes from my neglect of methane and nitrous oxide in the dietary impact. So maybe we are still in the irght ballpark.)
This past weekend I saw a presentation at the Texas Book Fair (at the State Capitol, an innovation for which I have Laura Bush to thank, of all people) on the subject of Texas barbecue as a repository of authentic rural Texas culture. I love Texas barbecue; not the famous places like the Salt Lick, but the still-authentic ones like Black’s in Lockhart. It would be a real pity to have to sacrifice this oddly satisfying and evocative bit of authenticity to sustainability. It’s just not the same with barbecuing a chicken. Never mind a tofu.
To be sure, there are real ethical issues with even the smallest bit of meat. I don’t deny that for a moment. But the environmental ones are new, and they need to be properly calibrated. I’m afraid the numbers are all over the map.
I’m totally unconvinced that the impact of a dog compares to that of an SUV, even lightly driven. My latest calculation moves things a factor of three in further favor of the dog, although to be sure the dog cannot carry as much cargo. But I’d really like to pin down just how guilty I should feel when I bite into a Texas brisket sandwich. Are these pleasures of the blessed or pleasures of the damned? The estimates have way too much variance. This question has a real answer, maybe not within a factor of two, but surely within a factor of fifty!
Let’s get quantitative. How many miles in an SUV is a piece of brisket worth? Surely I should feel more guilty that I drove my Prius the thirty miles to Lockhart than that I stopped there for supper?
Oh, yeah, I parked the Prius around the block.
You cain’t really pull into Black’s in a Prius. It’s hoard to expline. Sort of a Tixes thang.
Update 12/31/09: Similar calculations here.
In an influential article in Texas Monthly and in a series of lectures, UT Engineering Prof. Michael Webber argues that Texans, who by an undeserved twist of good fortune, led the world into the carbon-burning age, may well be the ones who are doubly fortunate to lead us out.
Webber so argued today at this month’s monthly talk at The Austin Forum, a series of public talks held at the TACC/UTIG facility where I work, and I attended.
He doesn’t mince words:
Despite the general perception of our energy consumption, Texas is already doing much more to promote clean energy than the world realizes. For example, we created the nation’s first comprehensive municipal green-building program (in Austin) and the first technology incubator designed explicitly to encourage clean energy start-ups. Our biggest impact has been the aggressive use of renewable electricity—we were one of the first states to establish a renewable portfolio standard, which requires that a certain percentage of an energy company’s power generation come from renewable sources. Today half the states have something similar, following, to their surprise, in the footsteps of Texas (and Nevada). The renewable portfolio has been a huge success, leading us to create the largest installed base of wind capacity in the nation, about 9,000 megawatts, nearly three times as much as second-place Iowa. Our quick ramp-up of wind farms has pushed the U.S. ahead of every other nation, including Germany, the former leader, in terms of installed renewable capacity.
One of the ironies is that in Texas, our lack of concern about the environment enables us to do great things for the environment. You hardly need permission to build a wind farm here, and your neighbors cannot sue you for blocking their view. It’s much more difficult in environmentally inclined states like Massachusetts or California, where activists worry about the impact of the turbines on wildlife and ocean vistas. We don’t mind raising wind turbines, building transmission lines, or laying pipelines, all key advantages for renewable energy, which is diffuse by nature and requires vast tracts of land and sprawling infrastructure to be effective. Texas has a long history of trading blight for money. Why stop now?
He also notes that by a combination of extensive experience in big energy, geographic enormity, and dumb luck, Texas is well-positioned for wind, solar and biomass. While it is not obviously dominant in any of these categories it is easily the best positioned to move resources among the three. Also, not only does Texas have good geological formations for carbon sequestration, Texas also has the companies with experience running CO2 pipelines and pumping it underground.
I think a strong majority in the audience, myself included, agreed with Jeffrey Sachs (This was originally on Grist but several efforts by me today to find it there failed. If David or somebody over there wants me to file a bug report on how the site search went drop me a line. Linked is the Guardian’s version.)
That leaves the U.S. with no choice but to develop and use CCS technology, despite the fact that it’s never been successfully implemented, he said. Renewable energy sources and improvements in efficiency won’t come close to meeting the world’s growing energy demand, he said.
“There’s no quantitative way to get this right without the nuclear industry playing a really large role,” he said. “It’s not a happy thought, but it’s unavoidable.”
Well, agreed except for the “never successfully implemented”. Hey. Guys. We do it all the time. We have CO2 pipelines runnin all over WesTixes and N’Mexico.
There was some CO2/greenhouse skepticism in the audience, but it was polite and intelligent, for which I am grateful.
Most of the Austin Forum talks have been excellent, by the way. July’s is being given by me. Y’all come.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has just filed legislation that would strip the Texas State Board of Education of all authority assigned to it by statute. Among the board’s powers that would go away: setting curriculum standards and adopting textbooks. That authority would be transferred to the Texas Education Agency.
The only authority the board would keep under Senate Bill 440 is power granted under the state Constitution, primarily managing the Permanent School Fund. Removing that authority and eliminating the board altogether would require passage of a constitutional amendment, followed by approval from Texas voters.
We noted last month that state lawmakers had begun looking at ways to rein in the deeply politicized board. We wouldn’t be surprised to see additional legislation targeting the board.
Not sure how much to rely on TFN’s spin, but I sure hope this is more or less right. Hard as it may be for the rest of the world to believe based on our last eight years being governed at the federal level by rabid mole rats, there are certain traces of pragmatism among some parts of the Texas Republican party, and their numerical control of the legislature is slender.
Update: While in this article I refer to the departing federal administration as being constituted of rabid mole rats, in the other article I posted today I refer to them as drunken lemurs. I have been called to account for this discrepancy. I must say it is a good question. Most likely, it is a coalition of some kind between the two groups, which clearly have largely coinciding interests.
Yesterday, I mentioned this in passing, in discussing the impending trainwreck at the Texas State Board of Education:
“It is interesting that while they don’t actually accept science, they think they do. There’s no expression of contempt for science, just some sort of implication that it is rife with anti-Christian conspiracies. Strange.”
Some further thoughts following up from that:
When it comes down to it, they care whether a statement is consistent with their dogma, or neutral with regard to dogma, or antithetical to dogma. In their view anything in the last category is obviously a consequence of some sort of Dr. Evil Conspiracy. Accordingly no sort of scientific propriety informs their assault on the idea, which they take to be literally diabolical. They seem to mean well because they do mean well. They even want to save us poor sinners from our sins. This makes them all the more dangerous because they seem warm and reliable and familiar to their cohort.
They simply don’t understand how humans arrive at truth. How could they? They are fundamentalists after all. “It’s all wrote down in this hyuh book, son.”
They don’t play fair, but not because they are unfair. Rather it’s because they have no concept of logical coherence. It’s not that they don’t want to play by the rules. They can’t play by the rules we recognize because those rules are beyond them. Parliamentary, legal, political rules and stratgies are accessible to them. Pursuit of truth among messy evidence isn’t and can’t be. We allow them to pretend to play our game at our peril, and ultimately at theirs as well.
When we are at cross purposes with them, we should not be confused about the nature of the game we are playing. The truth eventually will out, I suppose, but sometimes it may not out in time.
Here is a press release from the creationists:
AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has scheduled a hearing of scientific experts, including three scientists who are recommending that students should learn about scientific evidence that challenges Darwin’s theory of evolution.
On Wednesday, January 21st, six experts selected by the SBOE to review a proposed update of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science will give testimony to the board. Three of the scientists will recommend that the board retain long-standing language in the TEKS calling on students to examine the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories in order to strengthen students’ critical thinking skills. The other experts are on record supporting repeal of the language.
“We’re very pleased that in this Darwin bicentennial year Texas has invited scientists on both sides of the evolution debate to testify about the scientific status of Darwin’s theory,” said Dr. John West, associate director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.
According to one of the experts, Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, examining the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories is a core part of the scientific process, and abandoning such critical analysis merely to satisfy ideological demands of Darwinists harms students by giving them a false view of scientific inquiry.
“Science education that does not encourage students to evaluate competing scientific arguments is not teaching students about the way science actually operates,” emphasized Dr. Meyer in his written report. Meyer, a Cambridge-trained philosopher of science, directs the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute.
Meyer will be joined in recommending the preservation of the “strengths and weaknesses” language in the TEKS by Baylor University chemistry professor Dr. Charles Garner and University of Wisconsin-Superior biology professor Ralph W. Seelke, whose laboratory research investigates the ability of natural selection to produce new functions in bacteria.
Previously, these scientists have advised the SBOE that good science education should encourage students to learn the scientific facts and engage in more critical thinking than they would under the currently proposed TEKS.
SOURCE Discovery Institute
Meanwhile, this showed up in my mail. It’s not just the biologists under attack, alas:
From: Christina Castillo Comer
Date: January 12, 2009 1:24:44 PM CST
Subject: Call to Action
Dear fellow science educators,
It is time for a call to action. As you know, the new Earth and Space Science course standards (and all other science course standards) will be up for approval before the State Board of Education during January 21-23.
It is very likely that some of the SBOE members–the seven who are Young Earth Creationists–will attempt to make changes to the ESS standards in ways that will damage the scientific integrity and accuracy of the course. In particular, these SBOE members will try to negatively modify or delete the standards that require students to understand the following scientific topics they consider controversial:
- age of the Earth and universe,
- the Big Bang model of cosmology,
- radiometric dating,
- evolution of fossil life,
- fossil lineages and transitional fossils,
- origin of life by abiotic chemical processes,
- ancient mass extinction events, and
- global warming and climate change.
We need you and all your friends and family members to write letters to the individual SBOE members and ask them to adopt the new ESS standards without change!
That’s the simple message of your letter: to accept the proposed ESS standards without editing or modification. We strongly suspect an effort will be made to do exactly that by members of the SBOE.
A group of ten individual Earth scientists that included high school teachers, ES teacher trainers, college professors, and industry geoscientists worked together for a year during several intense meetings to create these standards. Their very careful effort and hard work should not be injured by the actions of nonscientists who have ideological and political agendas. Under the Texas Constitution, the SBOE members are politically-elected officials who actually have the power to write whatever science standards they wish, and several have expressed their intention to modify certain standards to align with their religious and ideological agendas.
In addition to writing your individual letters (the same letter to each member is OK) asking that the ESS standards–indeed, all the science standards–not be modified in unscientific ways against the intentions of the scientists and science teachers who wrote them. Please write to colleagues on email lists in which you participate and ask them to do the same. We need a tremendous outpouring of support to counter the probable equal outpouring of support from critics of science among the citizens of Texas. Feel free to use this message.
I attach a PDF copy of the new ESS standards with this message. It is part
of a larger document containing all of the proposed and recommended high
school science standards that can be found on the Texas Education Agency
The addresses of the individual SBOE members can be found at
http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/members.html . You can also email them
individually using a group email address, email@example.com,
although I think formal letters would be better received and more likely
read by them.
The letters need to be written and sent in the next few days. If you have never written a letter before, now is the time to do so. You should include in your letter:
Please adopt the ESS standards as written without modifications or
unscientific changes that weaken the standards.” You can add the other reasons as you wish: our state’s economy depends on a scientific understanding of the Earth, citizens need to understand Earth science as well as physical and life science, the Earth sciences affect our lives in so many ways, etc.
We need our ESS course to have an accurate and reliable scientific content,
not damaged by eliminating or weakening important topics that some people
object to for non-scientific reasons.
Chris Castillo Comer
Of course, the trouble is the impedance mismatch between the law and the science.
You can make a case that “Science education that does not encourage students to evaluate competing scientific arguments is not teaching students about the way science actually operates,” emphasized Dr. Meyer in his written report. Of course, it’s well known that useful science education does not operate the way science operates. And science does not operate the way law operates, either. There’s no process besides abandonment for identifying discredited theories. There’s no official Board of Hooey that says “c’mon, give me a break, phlogiston?”
So in the eyes of the law, it is hard to distinguish between things that experts actually think about and centuries-old campfire ghost stories originally intended to keep children from wandering out of their tents.
And of course, the fundamentalists are interested in law and politics. It is interesting that while they don’t actually accept science, they think they do. There’s no expression of contempt for science, just some sort of implication that it is rife with anti-Christian conspiracies. Strange.
As always, see also the Texas Freedom Network.
With friends like this…
Fisher said, “We actually have more evidence for evolution occurring than we do for the law of gravity. … Something doesn’t become a theory if it’s got weaknesses. There may be some questions that may yet to be answered, but nothing that’s to the level of a weakness.”
Meanwhile the opposition argues thus:
“I’d argue it doesn’t make sense scientifically to take it out,” Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, the state board chairman, said of removing the “strengths and weaknesses” language. “Evolution shouldn’t have anything to worry about — if there’s no weaknesses, there’s no weaknesses.
Clear? It’s all about strength and weakness. Which is why “evolution” has “nothing that’s to the level of a weakness” and therefore hasn’t got “anything to worry about”, which is why it’s a “theory”.
That all cringingly said, as I read the article in the Austin Statesman, it seems like the strength of the fundamentalists in the current constellation in Texas is a bit less than the ominous picture the Texas Freedom Network presented recently (for instance, in a platform at the Ethical Society of Austin a couple of months back). That at least is good news of a sort.
However, the nonsense you see spouted by the ally of science shows the extent to which the peculiar ideation of the fundamentalists frames the discussion in these parts.
Anyone have a take on this Live Earth thing (besides the ever-reliable Mr Duff who surely doesn’t like the idea at all)? Those not in the favored locations can always watch it at local events on TV.
I figure I’ll go to the local one that seems to have some momentum. I’ll probably make myself unpopular by saying something pronuclear or insufficiently anti-corporate. My stunningly Austin-hip collection of vinyl records from the early 70s will obviously avail me naught. We’ll see.
Anyway fellow Cintral Tixens who might want to see me make a damn fool of myself in a crowd most of whom are about half my age can join the party on Centennial Trail. Live bands, too! I’d be thrilled if an In It reader recognized me.
Cringe factor be damned! Let’s turn out for the planet and see if there’s some way to get some popular momentum behind changing things a little!
Wynn has been giving a talk remarkably like Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth talk, with a bit of Texas interest thrown into the mix. I hate to fault him for that, and he did a reasonable job of it. He asserted, correctly, that “clammit santiss” like me are pretty much unanimous about many global warming questions that still generate far too much debate in the press and among the public. He also had a lot of interesting initiatives, including making the institution of city government carbon neutral, which is a very sensible way to help create necessary markets.
(In fact he goes out of his way to make Texas look even worse than it is on this issue, since the energy cost of energy production is split into our per capita emissions on his slides: those should be charged to the consumers not the producers… Texas is by far the worst per capita emitter among the states but it is an energy provider. Also I’m not at all sure that driving to the farmers’ market to buy a tomato is all that much more efficient than buying a mass market tomato at HEB.)
And as you can see from his homepage, he really is pushing very hard to be recognized as an especially climate-aware mayor.
So I’m afraid I messed up his public presentation last Sunday evening at the Alamo (the Austin Alamo, the beer and movies one) because I got to ask the first question, which was, as a new Austinite and former resident of Madison WI, I am absolutely apalled by the conditions in this town for a bicyclist. I acknowledged that the city was not designed around any transportation mode other than cars, but I suggested that ought to change. Being Lance Armstrong’s hometown, there is immense interest in recreational bicycling around here. That combined with the mayor’s ambition to be a leader in urban efficiency, you’d think, would be enough to argue for a little bit of leeway for the overweight middle-aged climate scientist trying to get to work and get a little exercise at the same time.
The audience applauded my point. The mayor cringed and (literally, I swear this) said the words “I feel your pain”. Bah. I cannot bicycle to work, the bus takes an hour, the car takes 12 minutes. I would happily switch to zero emissions if I weren’t risking my life to ride that last no-choices mile up Burnet (“burn it durn it“) Road. Do you think that the energy research complex of the great university in the great green boomtown of the sunbelt might deign to put in so much as a shoulder or a sidewalk by its energy research campus for its energy researchers to, um, save some energy?
No, but Will Wynn deeply sympathizes. What am I to make of this? Burn it, durn it, and to hell with the clammit, dammit?