Climate Change

IMG_0212“What you do not know is the only thing you know.”  T.S. Eliot

           No apt words from this inadequate chronicler can define the Grand Canyon experience, and even photographers (like Rita) with a good eye are able only to approximate its dignity and intimation of eternity. Ten miles wide and a mile deep, coming to a human perspective is nigh on impossible, most certainly for a modest blogger.

The canyon as currently viewable was created by four distinct and necessary geological phases unequally spanning about one and one half billion years. The oldest layers are the deepest and the most recently exposed.  “Recent” is a relative term for us mortals as geological time is similarly difficult to grasp.

The Grand Canyon’s one mile depth is ever changing and growing deeper at the geological fast track rate of about the thickness of a sheet of paper every year. The basement stone is one and one half miles deep, and a fraction is exposed.  This schist or bedrock level sits above the earth’s mantle and was the first stage of the deposition phase of the canyon’s formation, which commenced 1.6 billion years ago or approximately half our weary old planet’s age.  During this period, the land mass was covered by ocean with multiple volcanoes providing the entertainment.  The slow aggregation of the one and a half mile depth of super-heated volcanic activity and magma spanned millennia.

Next up the canyon wall is shale that built up at the bottom of massive swamps after the ocean drained owing to cyclical temperature changes – shale that is clearly delineated greenish gray and relatively soft. Above this is four hundred feet of red tinted limestone that accrued over many thousands of years of calcium buildup from countless generations of bountiful bone and shell decaying after new temperature change brought back the ocean. Red is not limestone’s natural color, but it has been tinted from the iron rich runoff of the few hundred feet of Cocohino sandstone above it. Sandstone clearly shows the ripples of its wind driven drifting during the centuries of desert that formed when the oceans again left the area during yet another naturally occurring era when giant sand dunes were the landscape about 265 million years ago.

Above this is the cap layer of gray white limestone when once again climate altered and back flowed the ocean for millions of years.  Another mile of various layers accumulated during the long deposition phase and various climate changes.  These layers have over millions of years eroded or been scraped away by thousands of feet of glacial ice to expose the current rim of the canyon that lies about 6,900 feet above sea level.

Three more phases, all exactly necessary, followed, or there would be no canyon. The massive Pacific tectonic plate collided with the Continental plate, which possessed the hard and immovable bottom schist layer.  The Pacific plate, unable to crush its way across the Continental dove under it, compelling it up thousands of feet.  What had been at sea level, now rose several miles.  The third phase saw more changes of climate, including Ice Ages. These new mountains spawned the Colorado River, flowing ever downward seeking the sea.  Finally, wind and water erosion from the many tributaries, over eons, widened  the river basin in the soft rock from the hundred feet or so of the river five miles out on each side. Fifteen hundred million years of widely diverse, cyclical climate change carved out a miracle.

“The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.  Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address 1961 (same address that cautioned the nation about the military/industrial complex).  (Link to full address)

No rational person can be a climate change denier any more than a rational person could deny a heliocentric planetary system of which we are the third planet out.  But let us consider that most people and many scientists  believe ourselves to be living in the age of ultimate enlightenment, and that current theory is the final one. Archimedes, Newton, Galileo, Boyle and Einstein believed they had nailed down an understanding of nature, structures and how things worked, and all had made some asymptotic progress.  But none of them had the final answer on Jeopardy.

The issues at hand: what is the current trend of inevitable climate change, what portion of that change is man caused, and what can or should we do to prepare for or mitigate it?  A secondary question, and a critical one for those trying to formulate policy regarding climate change, is what bias exists among those ‘ologists’ studying the phenomena?  When scientists tell us that the science is settled, they have ceased to be scientists and have become advocates.  Their efforts are then spent proving what they have established to be true. Peer review becomes verification, dogma and evangelism.

Have they first defined, and then conformed to an ideological and political narrative? Have the data and statistics been bundled, and do their interpretation and resulting policy recommendations form a consistent drum beat?  Unfortunately, there are dual beats, which are unalterably opposed and express a clear schism along political lines.  Not a good setting to try and do the right thing or the effective thing, if indeed, there is such a policy to be found.

To oversimplify, the right tends to deny there is global warming, and if there is,  it is within the limits of normal climate cycles. Even if it isn’t, what can we do about it, since the worst perpetrators of the CO2 and particulate emission are rapidly growing formerly third world economies that deeply resent former massive despoilers of the environment, who are now preaching with the fervor of recent converts.  “We’ll inhibit our growth by layering on the costs of responsible energy policy when we’ve caught up to you who operated under the old rules while you grew your economy and lifestyle.” Or something like that.

For the left, which includes almost all of academia, current government policy makers and major media, global warming is established science, a panicked crisis, and the only solution is to lower carbon based energy source use precipitously through whatever draconian enforcement and rule making necessary. Economic consequences be damned.  The data that is not reformulated to fit a model curve show that in the last decade the warming has leveled off, which conflicts with the models created by the very scientists who bang the drum.  These models have failed utterly in predictive capability when put to the test.  To jigger the measurements to conform to the models is a continuing, largely unreported scandal and justified by the perpetrators in tweaking the data to conform because, after all, the model must be right, and is for the greater good anyway.

Can we listen to Ike on this?  Has money fatally infected science with an unholy predisposition?  To wit: government bureaucracy, especially left leaning bureaucracy, has as its most sacred postulate a necessity to regulate and to metastasize.  This amorphous, consuming blob through confiscatory tax policy takes our money and among many other self-serving profligacies dispenses grants to scientists.  Scientists have devolved from truth seekers into grant seekers and peer recognition junkies.  Grant seekers get money by conforming to the narrative beloved by the regulators and funders.  Peer reviewed scientific papers bear fruit when their conclusions conform to the same narrative, a narrative perpetuated by other grant seekers and the grant dispensers.  Can this self-perpetuating conformity be healthy for truly unbiased truth seeking?  Of course it can’t.

“Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Ranier Maria Rilke

Interesting counterpoint.  See Youtube video with an award winning meteorologist, John Coleman, “How the Global Warming Scare Began“:   Link here.


Filed under Background Perspective

10 responses to “Climate Change

  1. Rita

    Such a wonderful 69th BD vacation with the love of my life!

    Our 50th wedding anniversary is fast approaching and this trip gave us a glimpse back to our early married life and a year spent in Boulder CO. We were lucky to stay with Jack’s friend and former tree climber, Bob Cormack. Bob was a member of the Rocky Mountain Rescue League and was the 7th American to summit Mt. Everest in 1976. He and his wife Kathy willingly drove us up to Boulder and gave us the grand tour. We also drove up to Flagstaff and reminisced while gazing at the Rockies. It all came rushing back…

    The visit to the Grand Canyon just happened to fall on February 20th, my BD. I guess I’ll remember that BD for awhile…until my mind is gone, which could be in a few months. We’ve all seen photos of the GC, but until you see it in person you just do not even begin to understand it’s magnitude and beauty. I found it to be a humbling experience… After all, we all think we are sooo important. At the end of the approximately 2 mile walk along the south ridge of the canyon we were lucky to hear a wonderful talk by one of the park Rangers about how this natural marvel came to be. I have a shot of Jack taking notes…which turned out to be part of this blog post. I like to give credit where credit is due. We had a chance to talk to the Ranger after his lecture and it was a great conversation as well. One thing I learned in a discussion about where their water comes from was a factoid about how much water the native Americans used each day. One gallon per person was for drinking, cooking and washing. A single American today uses 150 gallons of water per day. Yikes…don’t let that faucet run while you brush your teeth folks! Now that you’ve heard this, I guarantee you will feel guilty!

    We were also blessed to spend some time with our youngest daughter Meg in Laguna Beach. One license plate called residents “Lagoonies”. Homes stacked on hillsides along the ocean with views of the Pacific and Catalina Island were breathtaking. It was great to spend time with our Meggie and her husband Marty and his beautiful family. The plants and trees were beautiful and we have LOTS of pictures testifying to that fact. I have a love of succulents, and so seeing cactus in large sizes was great fun. Looking forward to another trip to the far side of the country. The average temperature while we were there was 75 degrees. Sorry folks. 😦

    Oh beautiful for spacious skies
    For amber waves of grain
    For purple mountains majesty
    Above the fruited plain
    America, America
    God shed his light on thee
    And crown thy good
    With brotherhood
    From sea to shining sea

    Hope that’s correct… It’s from memory.


  2. Anthony Vinson

    Climate change is but one symptom of a larger malady, that of scientific illiteracy. Sure, no rational person would deny anthropogenic climate change in light of the current evidence, but science is an evolving body of knowledge; a series of models expressing the most recent and reliable evidence having been filtered through what is known as the scientific method. This causes a great deal of confusion for the common (and predictably irrational) person who has been led to believe that science is an end rather than a means. “Those scientists keep changing their minds. They can’t agree on anything.” Well, yeah. That’s the process, and eventually there are (often but not always) agreements but only as a result of the process. And even those results are (and should be) subject to scrutiny and reevaluation upon the discovery of additional evidence. This seems somehow wishy-washy to those who do not understand the process. It’s not. It’s a rational approach to problem solving. But in the absence of an ability to understand, misunderstanding runs rampant.

    Having read a great deal on the subject of climate change in an effort to better understand all sides, it is my belief that we should take a rational, long-term approach to the problem. We didn’t get here in a decade so how can we expect prompt resolution? That also seems to be the consensus of the scientific community at large; let’s acknowledge the problem (as presented by the current evidence) and begin immediately working toward a solution. In order to reach that point it is first necessary to get the attention of the politicians and talking heads that sow the seeds of doubt through their agenda-driven ignorance. (For the record, there are those within the scientific community who suffer from the same agenda-driven ignorance. But they are the lesser problem, at least right now.)

    Can we not agree that a part of that solution is creating a stronger foundation of science education? If we did a better job of teaching the scientific method, focusing on its benefits as well as its limitations, we demystify the subject and provide much needed clarity to not only climate change, but other important issues as well. We can minimize knee-jerking and demagoguery and instead work to achieve greater clarity through the application of the scientific method. Seem rational?

    As an aside, Grand Canyon is one of my favorite places. I have hiked into the canyon twice, once along Bright Angel and once South Kaibab. Both experiences were transcendent and I hope to make at least one more trip down before I get too damn old. And this time I think I’ll spring for food and lodging at Phantom Ranch rather than hauling gear down and up!


    • Transcendent is a good word, for it , Anthony. Rita wants to go again and bring grandkids. To use an overworked cliché, the Grand Canyon should be on everyone’s bucket list, if they can possibly make it.

      I, too, am a science junkie. Currently taking a course on Einstein special and general relativity as well as some quantum physics. Was a biology major a few centuries ago. Have been an environmentalist back from the Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold days when we were called conservationists. (Conservationist is an interesting root word, closely related to conservative.) I was a literal tree hugger for many years. So science illiterate may be a little strong. However, neither am I an enthusiastic convert to Scientism, wherein the scientific method is the only path to enlightenment, and pantheism has become the altar.

      Not to say we can’t all do what we can do. I drive a hybrid, we are looking into solar for our house now in Middletown. To hear Al Gore pontificate on global warning, making it his cottage industry, when his carbon footprint of multiple mansions and private jets exceed some small towns I’ve lived in, makes me nauseous.

      Have also read fairly extensively of the “global warming” phenomenon, which is now generally referred to as “climate change,” mostly because for the last decade, the warming trend has been on hold or modest decline, throwing the algorithm and model predictions back to square one. That is once the ‘as read’ data are tracked, not the “actual” data tweaked and trued up to the models by the people who are more interested in verifying their model than in charting what the reality is. Especially vulnerable to playing the curve when hundredths of degrees are the criteria.

      When the regulators get involved in funding these grants, the potential for corruption is high. Look at Keystone or the auto industry. I don’t see the U.S. regulators getting involved in putting out coal seam fires in China, but just in China they contribute more tonnage per year of CO2 emissions than all the cars and light trucks in the USA, plus a lot more noxious particulates than any car emits. Technology exists to fight these fires (using argon), but it is expensive and until the government figures out a way to tax it, fund it through other taxes, generate fat fines to the responsible parties (including lightening), build another bloated agency of government employees to manage it and/or leverage it for votes, the coal seams will burn. In China, in Australia, in India and here.

      I have known quite a few university academics over the years. The competition, political infighting and jockeying for grants and position rival anything you will see in a corporate or government bureaucracy. Vicious, even, and with all smart people. Scientists exist in the realm of ideas and theory. “Peer reviewed” science does not necessarily mean objective analysis; it can just as well mean whose theory is being upheld or challenged. And money rules. Deeply imbibing the fashionable Kool-Aid may get you grants and fund your department, but it does not always lead to truth. We all have to be careful which Kool-Aid we imbibe.


      • Anthony Vinson

        Two things. First, my opening sentence should have read, The ongoing debate about climate change is but one symptom of a larger malady, that of scientific illiteracy.” That’s what happens when one bounces out of bed and begins reading and responding to blogs before at least one full cup of coffee! Second, it seems based on your second paragraph that you may have interpreted my remarks about science literacy directly at you. That was not the case. I was speaking in generalities. If I failed to make that clear, then please accept my apologies. This, too, may have easily been caused by the same lack of caffeine referenced above.

        My advocacy of science is based on an understanding of the scientific method, and not any institutional definition of “science.” The method works, but is every bit as subject to human frailty as anything else out species has constructed. That’s the point and purpose of peer review and falsifiability. It, too, works when rigorously applied.

        Scientism? I thought that was a pejorative. Or perhaps that was your point? And pantheism? The altar? Not sure what your mean since most scientists are either theists, atheists, or deists like everyone else. (Since we act based on what we believe rather than what we know, agnosticism isn’t really a position, but more of a qualifier.)



  3. Bob Cormack

    Jack and Anthony;

    Jack: It was very good to see you and Rita again! You got to see Boulder and the mountains on the only good day we’ve had in over several weeks – and won’t have another in the next week, if the forecasts are right. It’s been cold, cloudy and snowy since you left.

    I love the Grand Canyon also, but when I think of it I can’t help remembering what a slog it is hiking out (especially in the summer). Perhaps I should have limited my visits to the rims!

    Anthony: I disagree with two aspects of your posts. First, the ongoing debate about anthropogenic global warming (AGW for short) is anything but a symptom of scientific illiteracy, since most of those who would like a real debate are themselves scientists and the people who steadfastly avoid debate are those most responsible for generating the models that the AGW hypothesis is based upon.
    Instead, the proponents seem to like to make poorly (or non) supported claims to the press such as the recent one that “2014 was the hottest year on record”. When examined further, it turns out that NASA climatologists had calculated that 2014 was the warmest year by 0.02 degrees C. Since they also say that the uncertainty in this determination is 0.2 deg C, a statistician would be perfectly justified in concluding that the “warmest” claim was statistically meaningless.

    When pressed, NASA admitted that they were only “38% certain that 2014 was the warmest year”. Obviously (but left unsaid by NASA), this means that they are 62% certain that 2014 wasn’t the warmest year. Mere logic wasn’t enough to prevent from proclaiming that “There is a scientific consensus that 2014 was the warmest year in the temperature record”.

    On second thought, maybe the media noise (nonsense?) being promulgated in support of the AGW hypothesis may indeed be indicative of scientific illiteracy.

    The basic problem with the AGW hypothesis is not the possibility that humans are affecting the climate (which nearly everyone is willing to admit is possible, even probable), but that the crisis supposed to be caused by this is entirely a predicted crisis – predicted by the computer models run by organizations like the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO.

    So, if a crisis does not currently exist, but is predicted by computer models, it is (should be) an obviously important task to determine the predictive skill of the models.

    As Jack has pointed out, however, there has been no statistically significant warming for the last 20 years – but at the same time, all the models have predicted significant, even accelerating, warming over the same time period. (BTY, the currently popular media claim that ‘extreme weather events’ are increasing doesn’t survive the slightest historical research. For one example, we are currently in the longest period in the entire US historical record without a Category III or larger hurricane making landfall.)

    So, we have an entirely predicted crisis (dangerous warming) which is predicted by models which have demonstrated no predictive skill. What, exactly then, is the crisis? (If you think this is a crisis, I would be interested in hearing your reasoning.)

    For some context, my wife was a scientific programmer for NCAR back in the 1970’s when these models were being developed, and I have spent perhaps 10 years (out of a 30 year engineering career) developing and building instrumentation for NCAR’s research aircraft.

    My second quibble is your description of the scientific method – which is a pretty good re-statement of Roger Bacon’s original formulation in the 13th century. This is, and always has been, an ideal which is rarely achieved in practice. The actual workings of science (and scientists) is much more like Jack’s description than this idealized description. I have degrees in math, physics, and electrical and optical engineering and, while I have spent most of my working career in industry, I have been doing research at the University of Colo (and teaching an occasional graduate class) for the last 5 years, so I have had ample opportunity to observe academic scientists in their natural habitat. (In addition, I worked with a number of atmospheric scientists and programmers earlier in my career.)

    Understand that I have no problem with your description of the scientific method – it would work just fine if followed. The practice, however, is much more like what Eisenhower cautioned us against than it is like Bacon’s ideal.

    I am glad you didn’t mention peer review. Peer review, IMO, is one of the worst developments in science (it wasn’t really used until the last half of the 20th century). Don’t mistake peer review for replication (one of Bacon’s ideas) – replication can take years for some complex ideas, whereas you are expected to review a paper in a few days. An honest reviewer checks to see that there are no obvious mathematical errors (do units agree on each side of the equations, for example), that prior workers in the field are properly referenced, and that the conclusions drawn are supported by either theoretical analysis or physical evidence presented in the paper.

    There don’t seem to be a lot of honest reviewers, however. Many scientists simply decide if they agree with the paper or not. Used this way, peer review is a form of social control – simply a way to enforce conformity, not much different than what is used by cliques of high school girls.

    My students (in graduate engineering) once asked me what I thought the difference was between scientists and engineers. I never volunteer opinions in class – what is common in other depts. like history or political science is still discouraged in the engineering school, thank goodness. I was asked, however, so this was my answer:

    “Scientists can have successful careers by convincing their peers that they are right – Engineers can only have successful careers by being right.”

    Unfortunately, most climatologists seem to be scientists, not engineers.


    • Anthony Vinson


      Okay. Disagree if you like, but I think that you actually make my point for me. I was speaking in generalities and from that perspective the AGW debate, along with ongoing debates about GMOs, vaccines, et al, are indeed indicative of a lack of scientific literacy among the general public. Rather than exercise tools like the scientific method, there is a tendency among the general public to believe what they hear through media outlets, including social media, and/or what folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand refers to as “FOAFs” or Friends of a Friend. These sources and outlets, while in many cases well-intentioned, are agenda and market-driven and therefore among the worst sources for objective information. Unfortunately people are conditioned to appeal to authorities, real or perceived, rather than think things through for themselves.

      Consider some celebrity who, against the best medical advice, advocates vagina-steaming. The result? Sales of devices created for the purpose at least temporarily skyrocket. Consider a minor actress who anecdotally determines causation between the MMR vaccine and autism. The result? Measles outbreaks at Disneyland (Among other things, ‘natch, but I am waxing populist here.) Consider Vani Hari, aka The Food Babe, the activist blogger whose book has whizzed its way to the top of the charts. A self-described “ordinary person” with zero science training or background, she advocates the elimination of chemicals in our food supply. But which chemicals and why? Hmm, on that topic she isn’t too clear. (Chemicals bad!) Consider the billion-plus dollar and currently unregulated vitamin and diet supplement industry that, in some cases, knowingly sells products containing only trace amounts of what is listed on the label. Then of course there’s homeopathy, raki, acupuncture, psychic reading…

      In my reply to Jack’s post I advocated nothing more than a rational, long-term approach to the problem of AGW based on the current evidence, and a stronger foundation of scientific education among the general population. Nowhere did I advocate a science state or anything of the sort. And as to the fallibility of the scientific method, well show me any human construct that isn’t flawed. But there’s no need to throw out the baby, right? Well, unless of course the chemicals in that water are bad for the climate… But maybe we could use them in the steamer?!

      So while I will gladly accept your list of credentials, and those of your wife as well, the citations were unnecessary in this case since I wasn’t arguing in support of any particular side in the debate per se, but rather the application of reason rather than hysteria.

      Agree about topping out at Grand Canyon. On my first trip down (in mid-July!) a ranger at Bright Angel Campground told me that upon reaching the rim I would either be determined to never hike in again, or determined to head back down in the future. Pain fades, I guess, since I went again.



    • To encourage conversation between reasonable people of good faith who are opposed to one another’s point of view, even of their interpretation of reality, but without rancor or anger is the purpose of doing a blog in the first place. For that I am grateful and heartened. Would that more such conversations occur. Out of that may come reasonable courses of action.

      I need to apologize for the confusion of the pantheism remark, having been guilty of the rhetorical error analogous to the grammatical error of mixing my metaphors. The confluence of the angry pantheist (such as Julia Robert’s inane Mother Nature rant) and the naiveté of accepting scientists as the most reliable arbiters of truth is to me dangerous ground. When politics are added to the mix, there is no upside.

      There is some encouraging news this week (if borne out) of a Chinese study forecasting that solar power will become the most cost effective energy source by the middle of the century based on the rate of decreasing costs in that technology relative to carbon based fuels and nuclear fuels. That strikes me as hopeful, given the environmental damage, noise and disruption of wind, and the destruction attendant to new hydro plants with dammed up rivers.

      Bob’s caveat and definition of scientists vs. engineers has merit. The scientist (including climatologist) lives in the ivory towers of academia that shelters them from the consequences of their proclamations, proclamations that are just as vulnerable to trend, self congratulatory journals and coffee room chat as any other, maybe more so because of the insularity of the institutions in which they flourish.

      I like William F. Buckley’s old quote about scientists: they first build the Brooklyn Bridge, then buy it. His observation was of a metaphorical Brooklyn Bridge suspended by mutual agreement over the abyss. The engineer, on the other hand, has to build a real Brooklyn Bridge and then drive on it. There’s a big difference.


  4. Neither solar nor wind power can be a major part of the nation’s energy source until the storage problem is solved. This is completely independent of the cost of producing solar panels (or windmills). In fact, there are theoretical designs for thin-film solar cells that would cost only a small fraction of today’s solar panels and could be as much as 50% efficient. There is, currently, no desire in any US company to set up to develop and produce them — after spending some $100Ms setting up production, the Chinese (among others) would simply rip them off and build them cheaper using near-slave labor. (I was in partnership with a company in Denver that tried to interest DARPA in one such design, but the concepts were, ironically, too old to interest them, even though no such cells had — or have yet — been made.)

    Of course, the management of Solindra demonstrated that you can become personally rich by selling the idea of cheap solar panels to the government. It requires good government connections and a low level of integrity. Don’t expect any actual solar panels to be built.

    The reason even very cheap, efficient solar cells (or very cheap wind generators) can’t currently have a significant effect on the nation’s power mix is that there is no reasonable way to store electrical energy for when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. The energy storage density of batteries (even the best) is pathetic compared to chemical fuel. I have a friend, an old roommate, who got rich inventing and producing the infrared motion detectors now used everywhere on doors, lights, faucets, toilets, etc. He got out in time — everything like that is now made in China and similar places. My friend always has (for one of his cars) the latest in electric car technology. He took me for a ride 17 miles up Boulder Canyon to the mountain town of Nederland — a pretty hard climb. The car used 97% of it’s battery storage getting there — of course we recovered 1/3 of that by braking regeneration on the way down, so only 65% of the battery energy was needed for the round trip.

    Based on the energy usage, we did a simple calculation that showed that the energy stored in the 2000 lb battery pack was roughly equivalent to 1 gallon of gasoline.

    If one is really serious about stopping the use of petroleum fuels, then nuclear energy is really the only feasible way to supply the energy we need in a reliable way. Interesting how the same people who warn against the use of oil and coal seem to also be overrepresented in the anti-nuclear crowd. There’s been a discussion in the Boulder Daily Camera’s letters pages the last few weeks on nuclear electric generation, prompted by Boulder’s ongoing attempts to create its own electric utility. After a few people rashly made the case for nuclear above (“if you’re really serious”, etc) they were roundly debunked by letter writers showing conclusively that nuclear power was way too dangerous and environmentally risky to ever be seriously considered.

    When I sometimes end up talking to people like that, I always say, Of course – that’s why France (which generates 80% of its electricity by nuclear plants) is an uninhabitable, radioactive wasteland. I usually get a blank stare in response.

    France uses reprocessing techniques (developed, but not used in the US) to get an order of magnitude more energy from a given amount of uranium, while reducing the waste volume also by an order of magnitude and the radiation sequester requirement from 250,000 years to 500 years. They don’t bury this waste but warehouse it – all the waste from their 50 or so plants for the last 30 years could be stacked on the basketball court of a High School gymnasium. They are starting to explore transmutation of this waste via accelerator-driven reactors which not only produce a significant amount of power themselves, but reduce the necessary sequester time to several decades. (Of course, this technology was also developed – but not used – in the US.) If France continues on this line, the development of practical, industrial-size accelerator-driven reactors would also open up an entirely new kind of reactor technology — the thorium reactor, which would have a number of significant advantages over Uranium reactors:

    1) The reactor can’t run-away: You turn off the driving accelerator, the reactor shuts down.
    2) There is a lot more Thorium available than Uranium.
    3) You can’t make a bomb out of Thorium.
    4) The reaction products are less radioactive and have much shorter half-lives.

    There might be a wild card about to be played in the energy business: The director of Lockheed’s Skunk Works announced last year that they had developed a “small” fusion reactor design which could be transported via semi-truck and would be able to power 80,000 homes, and would have commercial models within 5 years. This was pretty startling, since the Skunk Works is a very credible outfit – having designed a number of aircraft beyond the then current state of the art, such as the F-104, U2, SR71 Blackbird, Stealth fighter, and a number of others the information for which is pretty much limited to their names (“Have Blue”, etc.)

    They have put the claim up on their website: This shows a picture of what is clearly a Farnsworth – type reactor, but some other data releases show what appears to be a magnetic-mirror reactor, which I had thought had been thoroughly explored:
    It’s also possible that they have developed a hybrid fusion device – part magnetic mirror and part electrostatic (Farnworth fusor). There have been reports that some venture capitalists have been throwing money at similar projects:

    So, Jack; I wonder if you know the story of Philo T. Farnsworth. Not many people do. A Utah farm boy (born in a log cabin in 1906), one of the first of his over 300 inventions was television, the principles of which he worked out when he was 14 years old. He had a working model by age 21. He won a lawsuit against RCA, which had to pay him royalties.

    The invention of interest here, however, is his fusor – the first actual working fusion reactor which he developed in the 1960s based on phenomena he had observed in radar vacuum tubes he helped develop during WWII. The Farnsworth fusor is a small device (think basketball-size) that is relatively easy to build. In fact, you can find instructions on the web to do so – see: and . These are built by basement experimenters and high school students for science fairs. The youngest person to successfully make one is only 13 years old. One has to be careful, however – the introduction of any elements into the fusor which can fuse at temperatures of 100,000,000 deg C (the approximate effective temperature at the center of the device) can result in the sudden production of copious amounts of hard radiation. These devices can become deadly in a hurry if you don’t take adequate shielding precautions.

    In fact, these devices are commercially sold as neutron sources, primarily for neutron activation analysis of coarse mixtures such as fertilizers and cattle feed. (That’s right – somewhere in that large silo complex standing alongside the railroad in a farming community on the plains may be a small building with a nuclear fusion reactor under the floor, busily insuring that the cattle feed has the right mix of nutrients.)

    I realize that this is starting to sound like the plot of a Heinlein novel, so here is the Wiki page on Farnsworth, so you know I’m not making this up:

    So, why aren’t we using these things to power everything (like the “Mr. Fusion” on the back of the DeLorean in “Back to the Future”)? The one problem with the Farnsworth fusor (which it shares with much larger and more expensive fusion reactors such as the various Tokamats) is that the fusion energy output falls short of the electrical input. With the fusor, the problem is that the hot plasma comes into contact with the wire grids required to generate the electrostatic fields and is cooled (see the images on the DIY pages above). Unlike the magnetic machines, however, the fusor occasionally falls into a hyper-efficient mode (often called “Star Mode”) where the plasma avoids the grids and the output significantly exceeds the input. To date no one has been able to keep a fusor in Star Mode for more than a few minutes, a fact that has been driving basement and garage inventors crazy for 50 years.

    There has been much speculation that perhaps the interaction of the plasma and the wires produces currents (either in the plasma or the wires, or perhaps both) which create the “right” magnetic fields to direct the plasma away from the wire grids. This leads to the idea that if you deliberately ran currents through the grids, and the grids and currents were designed to produce the “right” magnetic fields, you could get a power-producing fusion reactor.

    A lot of people have been working on this for the last few decades, so it’s not unreasonable to suppose that someone has had a breakthrough.

    What do you bet that, if and when we get a viable fusion power source – especially if it is small and quasi-personal like the Farnsworth fusor – that Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and all the other like organizations strongly attack its use. I hope I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t bet that way.


  5. Mark Parquette

    I thought this was an interesting article by Michael Lemonic in Climate Central titled “Why the Globe Hasn’t Warmed Much for the Past Decade”

    The answer, according to a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters, is that a lot of it is being stored in the deep ocean, more than a half-mile down. “We normally think about global warming as what we experience on the Earth’s surface,” said co-author Kevin Trenberth, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in an interview. If extra heat is temporarily stored elsewhere thanks to natural climate variations, we won’t necessarily notice it.

    But sooner or later it will inevitably emerge, which means that the current slowdown in warming may well be balanced by a period of rapid warming in a few years — nobody knows how many — from now. Scientists have always said that global warming would proceed in fits and starts, not in a smooth upward trend in temperatures. This study offers one specific explanation of why that happens.


    • Neither one of is a climate scientist, and I don’t know how the deep ocean temperatures were tracked over time. Perhaps there is merit, perhaps it is the “climate change” advocates who are scrambling to come up with an explanation for how their models were so woefully wrong. If you read Bob’s comments above, especially those regarding the science and the programming his wife, Cathy, helped with to produce the models, you may find some counterpoint. Thanks for weigh in on this important topic. They are engineers and in the scientific community out in Boulder, where one of the national climate research centers is located.

      Had an interesting development in Rhode Island this week. The new governor, Gina Raimondo, came in with great hurrah a couple of months ago. She leaned heavily left, but we all start out with hope. One of her first initiatives this week was to form a thirteen member “Climate Change” Committee. She punched her ticket and checked off the box for the politically correct buzz topic. Next will come “Diversity” I’m sure. Thirteen members of the legislature and local city governments will get paid extra, get distracted from their other work, no doubt recommend a new bureaucracy to regulate Rhode Island’s “climate change” contribution. This is a state ranked last in business friendly climate and near the bottom in job creation. A state constantly hovering on the edge of bankruptcy. She’s got her priorities straight. Just layer on a few more business crunching regs. She’ll make some progress, though, as she creates a new bureaucracy to “manage” Rhode Island’s climate change. Let’s see, we have about 3/10 of one percent of the population, and since we are so small geographically one of the lowest miles driven per person per year level, but we’ll crank up the last bastion of the left – larger, more intrusive government to solve all our problems and cure all our ills. Will create some jobs though, taxpayers will ante up. Hire a few more cousins and in-laws to staff the new bureaucratic incursions.


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