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Dead of Winter

Dead of Winter

There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” – Henry Kissinger

In the United Kingdom, a grassroots protest movement has broken out in response to the ongoing energy crisis. With the bill from its failed national policies coming due, ordinary citizens are organizing campaigns to ensure they are not the ones left holding the bag. The mission of Don’t Pay UK is to gather at least one million commitments from Her Majesty’s loyal subjects to simply stop paying their energy bills as of October 1, 2022. At the time of this writing, Don’t Pay UK has passed 130,000 signatures. We expect that number to grow.

In reading a recent profile of the movement by Euronews Green, we were struck by the framing of the crisis by some of the movement’s organizers. This quote from the piece and the photo we have reproduced below caught our attention (emphasis added throughout):

Lewis Ford, an organiser from Hull, agrees the movement is ‘a lot about solidarity’, especially for those forced to choose between heating their home and feeding their family.

‘We’re already talking about the idea of setting up warm banks, which is an absolutely preposterous idea,’ the 31-year-old IT consultant tells Euronews Green. ‘We’re one of the richest nations. So, it’s not like there’s no money, it’s the fact that the money is being kept in one space.’”

Unicorn hunter | Euronews Green

Sadly for Mr. Ford and the well-intended but totally naïve young woman holding out hope that the unicorn concept of “cheaper cleaner greener” energy is actually a thing, they are both victims of insidious propaganda…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Back to the Future

Back to the Future

The path of sound credence is through the thick forest of skepticism.” – George Jean Nathan

In the second half of the 16th century, Britain plunged into an energy crisis. At the time, the primary source of energy driving the British economy was heat derived from the burning of wood, and Britain was running out of trees. As the supply of wood dried up and its price began to soar, inflation set in, compounding the problem and spreading it to all corners of the economy. With imports from continental Europe insufficient to close the growing supply gap, the crisis looked set to crush the standard of living of the average British citizen.

And then they discovered coal.

Well, they didn’t exactly discover coal – it had been known for centuries that coal could be a useful fuel – but they did learn that, with a bit of tinkering, coal could replace wood in many important applications. They also recognized that they had a lot of it. With a higher energy density than wood, coal is a superior fuel that ultimately enabled meaningful improvements in the British economy. Trees could be preserved for construction purposes, homes could be more efficiently heated, and companies could leapfrog their competitors – foreign and domestic alike – by retooling to accommodate the new fuel. What followed was a decades-long economic boom.

Coal | Getty Images

It is now well understood that the wide adoption of primary fuels with high energy density enables better standards of living. In a popular piece we wrote last year called Where Stuff Comes From, we presented a simplified mental model for understanding the energy density of carbon-based materials using rungs of a theoretical ladder. As a thermodynamic sink, CO2 sits on the ground…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Think Only Good Thoughts

Think Only Good Thoughts

Black and white creates a strange dreamscape that color never can.” – Jack Antonoff

The original iteration of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone is perhaps the most iconic television anthology in history. With 156 episodes aired over five seasons (1959-1964), the CBS show broke new ground with its unsettling mix of suspense, drama, horror, and moral provocations. At its core, the show was meant to make the viewer ponder deep philosophical questions by making them uncomfortable. After an unexpected reveal, the viewer was left with the confrontational rawness of each episode’s dilemma to work through – along with a powerful incentive to watch the next one. Contrary to the modern belief that weaponized clickbait is the key to durable engagement, people enjoy being made to think, and Serling tapped into this desire with brilliant flair.

In the 10th episode of the third season – The Midnight Sun – a prolific artist (Norma) and her elderly landlady (Mrs. Bronson) find themselves in an existential crisis: Earth has suddenly changed its orbit and is hurtling ever closer to the sun. The last residents in their New York apartment building, the pair are sweating out their final moments when confronted by a desperate looter looking to quench his ultimately unquenchable thirst. In a twist of perspective, the viewer learns that the entire episode has been a fever dream, and Norma wakes up to discover that Earth is moving away from the sun. Her imminent demise will be the result of global cooling, not warming. The episode was designed to demonstrate Earth’s fragility, couched in the context of a cold war threatening to turn hot and looming large in the collective attention of the day.

Norma and Mrs. Bronson | CBS

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Wide Awake

Wide Awake

Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” – Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan was a brilliant scientist, gifted orator, skilled teacher, and effective advocate for his strongly held beliefs. It is no exaggeration to say that Sagan is likely responsible for inspiring more people to pursue a career in the sciences than any other person in history. His 13-part television documentary Cosmos: A Personal Journey – which first premiered on PBS in 1980 and is still stunningly well-worth watching to this day – is widely regarded as one of the best science-themed series ever produced. Sagan knew how to turn a phrase to enchant an audience and routinely did so with a level of passion and charisma that cannot be faked.

In the climactic final episode of Cosmos titled Who Speaks for Earth? Sagan makes an impassioned plea for nuclear de-escalation. The first nine minutes of the piece are particularly spellbinding, and the introduction draws to a close with Sagan walking along a rocky shoreline where he delivers a historic monologue (emphasis added throughout):

The civilization now in jeopardy is all humanity. As the ancient myth makers knew, we are children equally of the earth and sky. In our tenure on this planet, we have accumulated dangerous, evolutionary baggage – propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders, all of which puts our survival in some doubt. We have also acquired compassion for others, love for our children, a desire to learn from history and experience, and a great, soaring passionate intelligence – the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity.

Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet earth. But up and in the cosmos, an inescapable perspective awaits. National boundaries are not evidenced when we view the earth from space…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Crazy Pills

Crazy Pills

It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.” – Bill Watterson

In the brilliantly funny 2001 film Zoolander, Ben Stiller plays a past-his-prime male model named Derek Zoolander. As the plot unfolds, Zoolander is unknowingly groomed and brainwashed by evil fashion designer Jacobim Mugatu (played by Will Ferrell) to assassinate the newly elected prime minister of Malaysia. The prime minister campaigned on a platform of raising the country’s minimum wage and ending child labor – thereby threatening the profitability of the fashion industry – and must be eliminated. Mugatu judges Zoolander to be just dim-witted enough for the task.

The movie is absurd and yet so well executed that it works. The sheer number of derivative memes you can find on Reddit and in the Twitterverse pay tribute to its many memorable scenes. One meme stands out from the rest and serves as an apt expression of the spectacle we’re scratching our feathers over today. Zoolander proclaims to have developed three signature looks: “Ferrari,” “Blue Steel,” and “Le Tigre.” GQ astutely describes them as being completely identical, with “a raised brow, pursed lips and the misguided confidence that everyone knows the difference between them.” After observing the crowd’s adoring reaction to Zoolander’s latest flash of Blue Steel on the runway an exacerbated Mugatu explodes, “They’re all the same face! Doesn’t anyone notice this?! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!!!

We sympathize with Mugatu’s lament, observing our political class translate its deep misunderstanding of energy into an equally haphazard set of economic sanctions levied against Russia, totally unaware that they are expressing the same ridiculous face at every opportunity. Before proceeding, we should note that pointing out the flaws in the West’s war response is not “pro-Putin,” nor is it “unpatriotic” as some propagandists on Twitter would have you believe…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Farmers on the Brink

Farmers on the Brink

Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

It was a spooky time to be out at sea off the US East Coast on Halloween in 1991. A strong storm system over the maritime provinces in Canada merged with the remnants of Hurricane Grace, forming a new, epic, and dangerous Nor’easter. The winds of this new storm breached 70 miles per hour and a wave as high as 100 feet was measured off the coast of Nova Scotia, but the storm was not renamed as either a tropical storm or a hurricane – instead, it is known only colloquially as simply the Perfect Storm. Six fishermen from Massachusetts perished when their vessel Andrea Gail sunk in open waters, and the story of the storm and of that tragedy became the subject of a best-selling book and a blockbuster feature film.

While the concept of a perfect storm is often too casually assigned in popular culture, it is difficult to find a more apt description of what has been unfolding in the global agriculture markets over these past several months. The tempest caused by the European energy disaster has merged with the hurricane of consequences flowing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, forming the genesis of a generational crisis in food that will leave few unaffected. While we’ve been warning about just such a scenario for some time, after spending the past two weeks traveling across the US Midwest and conferring with our contacts in the agricultural sector, even we are a little spooked by what we’ve learned. In a financial crash, the correlation between all asset classes converges to one…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

New England is an Energy Crisis Waiting to Happen

New England is an Energy Crisis Waiting to Happen

A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” – Carl Reiner

At its core, the human body is a symphony of chemical reactions. The complexities and interdependencies of the molecular machinery that makes our bodies function are almost too staggering to ponder. As any chemist can attest, chemical reactions are usually quite sensitive to temperature, and sensitivity to temperature varies substantially across reaction pathways. As such, temperature control not only dictates reaction rates, but it also influences product and byproduct distributions. At one temperature, two reagents might react cleanly to produce a desired product with high purity. At a different temperature, an undesirable pathway might become more kinetically favored, leading to the accumulation of unwanted impurities.

One of the miracles of the body is its ability to maintain strict internal temperature control, which allows it to regulate the speed and product distributions of the myriad of chemical reactions that are occurring inside you as you read this. The equilibria are delicate, so much so that fluctuations of a mere few degrees can be fatal. This concept of “normal” body temperature is widely understood, but its direct, vital connection to the core chemical reactions occurring inside you is less well known.

Because internal temperature is critical to sustaining life, the body has developed elaborate heat management systems, including discomfort nudges (like shivering and sweating) that are meant to directly generate or shed heat and motivate you to relocate to a more suitable environment. If you stand outside for a few minutes in the winter wearing nothing but shorts and a t-shirt, you become uncomfortable rather quickly. Return inside to a warm fire and a rewarding comfort envelops you. Just don’t get too close to the fire, lest the body be forced to nudge you back outside.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

America’s Energy Strategy is Bonkers

America’s Energy Strategy is Bonkers

Higher gasoline costs, if left unchecked, risk harming the ongoing global recovery. The price of crude oil has been higher than it was at the end of 2019, before the onset of the pandemic. While OPEC+ recently agreed to production increases, these increases will not fully offset previous production cuts that OPEC+ imposed during the pandemic until well into 2022. At a critical moment in the global recovery, this is simply not enough. President Biden has made clear that he wants Americans to have access to affordable and reliable energy, including at the pump.” – Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor (emphasis added)

Almost a decade ago, the official mascots of the London 2012 Summer Olympics were revealed. It didn’t go very well. Meet Wenlock and Mandeville:

At the time, I was perusing a magazine article collecting various reactions to the mascots – I think it was in Time but I can’t be sure – and one commentator delivered a line that will stick with me forever.

This can only be the work of a committee. It has cc written all over it.

I am reminded of Wenlock and Mandeville as I observe America’s rambling approach to energy policy over the past several years. When you ponder the logical consequences of where we are headed, it is hard not to conclude that this too must be the work of a committee, and a disjointed one at that. More on the members of that committee a little later.

Let’s start with the opening quote for this piece, which I took from an official White House statement, because it is quite the stunner. The President and his allies are limiting domestically produced oil and gas at every opportunity, which should come as no surprise – they ran for office on exactly this policy, after all…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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