Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Blackouts a reminder of the potential advantage of Vehicle-to-Grid power supply

NYU Langone Medical Center:
At times with only flashlights to illuminate the way, NYU Langone Medical Center began evacuating about 260 patients, carrying some of them down 15 flights of stairs to awaiting ambulances ready to take them to the safety of other hospitals.... 
But between 7 and 7:45 p.m. Monday, the hospital's basement, lower floors and elevator shafts filled with 10 to 12 feet of water, and the hospital lost its power, according to Dr. Andrew Brotman, senior vice president and vice dean for clinical affairs and strategy.
"Things went downhill very, very rapidly and very unexpectedly," Brotman said. "The flooding was just unprecedented." 
Emergency generators did kick in, but two hours later, about 90% of that power went out, and the hospital decided to evacuate patients.
I wrote a while back about an idea I'm researching of using electric vehicles to supplement backup power during blackouts, a bridge to the truly big idea of Vehicle-to-Grid battery power storing energy from intermittent renewable sources, for release when needed.  This article suggests another reason for EVs as additional power backup - in case your emergency generators fail.

Hospitals strike me as pretty power-hungry, so I'm not sure how long EVs could support them, but you could probably triage crucial uses and cut off the rest.  Any extra time would likely be appreciated.

Somewhat related - I attended a lecture by a Japanese consular official last summer on recovery from the tsunami.  He said that electric networks took only days to get back online, while gasoline supplies took weeks.  The implication is that a system relying more on EVs than gas engines will be more resilient.  Unfortunately we have another chance to see how that plays out here, albeit on a much smaller scale of tragedy.

UPDATE:  as of Saturday Nov. 3, it appears that power is coming back faster than fuel supplies.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Emergency kits: no time like the past, but the present is better than nothing

For those in Hurricane Sandy's evacuation areas, please read Eli's post above.  Or better yet, don't read it.  Just leave, now.

For everyone else, regardless of where you live on the planet, get emergency kits.  People who will have to ride out Sandy in place won't benefit from this 2010 repost, but it's a reminder to the rest of us:

Easy-but-not-cheap 72-hour emergency kits for home, with purchase links

It's hardly responsive to the Haiti quake, but I've been meaning to write about the earthquake/emergency kits I put together for Christmas presents. At least it's a way to lessen the burden on emergency services should something similar happen here.

There are nine members of my wife's family in the Bay Area, and when I found out no one had the 72-hour emergency kits we're supposed to have, I put them together as presents (in-laws loved the kits, too). My emphases were making them easy for me to put together, easy for people with no camping experience to use, and ones that would last as many years as possible without needing replacement or maintenance. In return I was willing to pay more, be more bulky than the minimum possible, and have limited control over food selection.

72-Hour Home kits:
  • Water in plastic jugs, 3 gallons/person
  • Iodine water-purification pills in case water goes bad (after 6 months, assume it's bad), in case it's leaked away, or in case you need more water (UPDATE: chlorine tabs have been suggested as lasting longer in storage than iodine)
  • Mountain House 72-Hour Emergency Meal Kit, 1 per person
  • Mountain Oven Flameless Heating Kit: each kit can be used 5 times and can prepare 2 meals at a time. So 2 kits per two people in a household, but also 2 kits in a single-person household.
  • Plastic silverware
  • Emergency phone numbers/contact list
The above is the absolute minimum. Meals can be eaten in their pouches, so no dishes are needed. Flameless heating kits eliminate the need for cooking stoves (water has to be purified, though). Emergency meals also can be eaten with cold (purified) water although they taste bad. The food and flameless kits should be good for at least 3 or 4 years, and probably more than twice that long.

Your kit should be stored outside your home in case you can't get inside. So in your yard, your car, or somewhere else. The only maintenance this requires is to simply look every six months to see if the water's leaked through the seams of the plastic jugs - it happens fairly often.

Additional useful items:
  • Cheap flashlight/headlamp
  • Spare batteries in clear plastic bag so you can see if they've become corroded over time
  • Plastic tarp and cord as a rain shelter
  • Swiss Army knife
  • Emergency shelter, 1 per 2 people
  • Cheap or expensive first aid kit (I went with cheap kits from the local drugstore)
  • Cheap rain gear, spare shoes and clothes
Don't let the extras delay you from putting together the minimum.

I also made better-than-nothing emergency kits for everyone's car, in case you're stuck on the road:

Car kits:
  • Half-liter water bottle (enough to keep you hydrated for a few hours until you can find a water source. Keep more than one if you have kids.)
  • Iodine (can disinfect murky water from ditches, and you might need to) (or chlorine tabs)
  • Emergency shelter
  • Small amount of long-lasting food (I found tins of honey-roasted peanuts that were good for four years)
  • Cheap rain poncho (I didn't include this, but should have)
  • Emergency contact list
  • Shoes you can walk many miles in, if that's not what you normally wear
  • Cheap, tiny flashlight
You can do much better than this car kit, but it's something in case destroyed roads/bridges keep you from getting home for 12-24 hours.

Additional tricks for both kits: put the contact lists in their own ziplock plastic bags to reduce the chance that they'll mold/get wet over the years. I've also found that the metal caps on the iodine bottles tend to rust over a few years, so I bagged them in their own ziplock bags, and poured a little table salt in the bags to absorb humidity.

Hopefully this is all unnecessary.

UPDATE:  lots of great comments below, and a resource link at Making Light.

N.B.  I've altered the posting time so Eli's post is seen above this one.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Romney in Ohio

Romney's team is replaying the tricks that Karl Rove wore out several times, a false sense of guaranteed victory.  From saying in 2006 that Republicans would control the Senate and the House right before they lost both, to the current claim of momentum, it's smoke and burnt toast.

In Ohio, polls show Obama ahead, and way ahead in the locked in, early vote:
On one hand, the two candidates are locked in a dead heat among Ohioans who have not yet voted but who say they intend to, with 45% of respondents supporting the President and 45% preferring his Republican challenger. 
But Obama has clearly received a boost from Ohio’s early voting period, which began on Oct. 2 and runs through November 5. Among respondents who say they have already voted, Obama holds a two-to-one lead over Romney, 60% to 30%. 
When those two groups are combined, the TIME poll reveals, Obama leads by five points overall in Ohio. 
“At least for the early vote, the Obama ground game seems to be working,” says Mark Schulman, president of Abt SRBI, which conducted the poll. 
Nearly one third of all Ohioans voted early in 2008.
(Emphasis added.)  Romney's losing ground with every day.  If he doesn't pick up three or four points or even more starting now, not just on Election Day, then he loses Ohio (assuming the poll's right, of course).  Nate Silver says the candidate who wins Ohio wins the election in 95% of his simulations.  If Romney loses Ohio, he then needs to win Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Virginia.

Keep talking up that momentum Mitt, but you're losing the race as long as the Democrats do a good ground game on turnout, or someone springs an October surprise.

UPDATE:  I forgot to add the obvious that Ohio is car-manufacturing oriented, and the less-obvious that it's 82% dependent on coal.  This might help explain, although not excuse, Obama's climate silence.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Republicans care more about diplomats than soldiers

It's not something I would have predicted, but it's hard to make logical sense over the Republican scrutiny of every detail of the four tragic American deaths in Benghazi while having little interest in the events immediately preceding the deaths of thousands of US soldiers under hundreds of scenarios in wars under both Bush and Obama.  I guess diplomats matter more to Republicans?

It's a dangerous world and people make mistakes.  There's no evidence tying security mistakes to Obama and Biden, at less so than the Paul Ryan and the Republican's vote to decrease security funding for diplomats, not to mention Ryan's deception in the last debate by saying no Marines were in Benghazi even though the Republicans had incompetently leaked that the CIA security was present.

Hope some of that comes out tonight, if we are forced to put a microscope on a that small part of the Libyan revolution that otherwise has had enormous positive consequences for Libya and the rest of the world (other than Mali).

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rogue geoengineering and scrivener's error

A shadowy businessman from my state named Russ George has apparently dumped boatloads of iron into the Pacific off the Canadian coastline in an alleged carbon sequestration project.  I first thought he had hooked up with the Haida, a Canadian First Nations indigenous group, in order to get some political backing, but the link shows it may have been more involved:

The dump took place from a fishing boat in an eddy 200 nautical miles west of the islands of Haida Gwaii, one of the world's most celebrated, diverse ecosystems, where George convinced the local council of an indigenous village to establish the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation to channel more than $1m of its own funds into the project. 
The president of the Haida nation, Guujaaw, said the village was told the dump would environmentally benefit the ocean, which is crucial to their livelihood and culture.  
"The village people voted to support what they were told was a 'salmon enhancement project' and would not have agreed if they had been told of any potential negative effects or that it was in breach of an international convention," Guujaaw said.
One imagines they could have done better things with a million dollars than financing Mr. Ross.  He is of a certain infamy from his Planktos company's effort to do the same thing five years ago and sell carbon offsets certified AFAICT on the basis of their own say-so.

So now they seem to have legal trouble with international agreements that tried to regulate efforts such as those by George.  However, wherever you can find a dubious legal interpretation that could harm the environment, it seems one can find a connection to the recent Rabett favorite, David "Heartstrings" Schnare:
• The London Convention / London Protocol: You may fertilize if the intent is to grow fish but not if the intent is to dispose of carbon in the ocean. Hence, focus on “restoration”.
At the same link, Ken Caldeira writes:

It would be useful if any legal minds in the group would assess exactly the relevant language that Russ George has supposedly violated. 
I recall that in negotiations under the London Convention / London Protocol, there was concern not to impact fish farms which of course supply copious nutrients to surrounding waters. 
If my recollection was correct, somebody proposed an exception for mariculture. I piped up and said that all ocean fertilization could be considered mariculture and that the CO2 storage could be regarded as a co-benefit, achieved knowingly but not intentionally (just as when we drive a car we knowingly heat the planet although that is not our intent). 
My recollection was that in response to this comment, the word 'conventional' was added to the language, so that it now reads: 
"Ocean fertilization does not include conventional aquaculture, or mariculture, .. ". Resolution LC-LP.1(2008) - IMO 
Incidentally, it seems that they have a misplaced comma, as I believe the word 'conventional' was meant to apply to both 'aquaculture'' and 'mariculture', but with the placement of the comma, I read this as 'conventional aquaculture' or 'mariculture'. I am not enough of a lawyer to know whether the intended meaning or the literal meaning is the one likely to prevail under some sort of adjudication process.
The misplaced comma is what lawyers call scrivener's error, a great way to mess up legal documents and run up legal bills.  To broadly over-generalize, under US domestic law courts will correct scrivener's error when it leads to absurd results.  It strikes me as absurd to limit the regulatory exception to conventional aquaculture while expanding it to all mariculture.  The legal issue here isn't domestic law though, but international law as interpreted by domestic authorities, probably Canada in this case.  Hardly my field, but Article 79 of the UN Treaty on the Law of Treaties says if signatories agree there was a clerical error, you just go and fix it.  I think that's where we would stand now on the clerical error, but there are other reasons for thinking George is in legal trouble (comments of Jim Thomas) regardless of the misplaced comma.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

One climate adaptation in process for local water demand

So I'm going to get at least one of the climate change goals I've had for my Water District - recalibrate anticipated future water demand based on anticipated future temperatures.

I know that anticipating our future local water supply (about 35% is local, 55% from the Sierras, and 10% is from conservation) is really difficult.  Most likely it will be worse - longer droughts and larger percent of precip coming in large storms where the water mostly flushes to the ocean instead of percolating to groundwater or caught in reservoirs.  Also less snow - and we do get snow in the Bay Area hills, even if it doesn't last.  But none of this translates into numbers that we can plug into our 25-year projections.

Demand, or at least aspects of it, can be modeled in a climate-changed world.  Thanks to weather, we've got past unseasonably-warm years that will be just typically-warm years of the future, and the increased demands from crops and landscapes due to warmth should be easy to see.

While this analysis didn't go into a water supply master plan that we approved last week, it will go into the next iteration.  I brought up the issue below, and got support from our board chair and (after discussion of other issues by staff) from the conservative Republican director on our board:

If the video above goes away, click here, click on the October 9 2012 video, and go to Minute 43.

Wish it was this easy all the time.  Adaptation to climate change still seems like the easiest way to bring about acceptance of climate reality, despite North Carolina's legislature.

(Updated to replace "next week" with "last week".)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Schnare on screen, Captain.

I'm annoyed that Eli beat me to the punch, but I did get the above spy-cam video showing David Schnare's latest work.  More GIFs of Schnare here.

You think that is a Scharescapade, Brian?  This is the real Schnarey thing - Eli


Monday, October 15, 2012

Brian's call to Santa Clara County environmentalists to vote for the Safe Clean Water Measure

After the jump below is a shortened version of a letter I'm sending far and wide to the local environmental community in support of a funding measure for the Santa Clara Valley Water District that I represent.  The funding goes to watershed restoration, water supply, and flood control, with this appeal directed to environmentalists.  Mail-in ballots will go out next week.

Letter to Santa Clara County Environmentalists about the Safe Clean Water Measure
Brian Schmidt
October 4, 2012

As a long time environmentalist with what I hope is some “street cred” on valuing the environment and knowing the Water District, I urge you, I beg you, to support the Safe Clean Water measure - Measure B - on the November ballot and to tell your friends to do the same. This fall might be our only chance for a decade or longer to get expanded environmental funding, and it definitely is our best chance based on what we currently know about future circumstances.

(More after the jump....)