Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


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Freezing Federal Workers’ Pay For 2 Years Accomplishes Nothing

President Obama’s announcement that federal workers’ pay should be frozen for 2 years generated headlines, but won’t accomplish anything if enacted.  It pre-empted Republican Teabagger headlines in January, true.  But being President should be about more than generating headlines before the other party.  It’s about demonstrating leadership and proposing policies based on a vision.

The reason for proposing this ostensibly is due to “deficit concerns”.  The policy would save a whopping $5 billion out of a $2000 Billion deficit over 2 years.  In other words, it is not a serious solution.  Everything being discussed by the D.C. establishment (which is solidly pro-corporate) in terms of the deficit will not reduce the deficit.

What continues to remain undone is a serious policy to address the employment crisis in this country.  Another chance to provide leadership has been passed up by this President.  I know why Democrats were drubbed in the 2010 elections.  Does the President?

[Update] Actually, this would accomplish something: further weakening an already weak economy.  Mark Sumner at dKos sums the effects up nicely:

It can’t be argued that imposing a $60 billion penalty on middle class workers — which is exactly what this is — will do anything but retard economic growth and reduce job production.

This policy will worsen the crisis that actually exists: the unemployment crisis. Bravo, President Obama.


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Smart Grid Cities: Boulder’s Pilot Project & DOE Helps 5 Smart Grid Projects

Two news stories caught my eye this weekend dealing with Smart Grid projects.  Smart grids are being researched and developed to connect residents and businesses with utility companies.  Based on the thought that people tend to reduce usage of resources when presented with that information in real-time, smart grids are envisioned as a way to help bring our wasteful energy use down.  I hold the opinion that they are a critical development in solving our climate crisis.  Serving as a foundation to introduce applications for people to directly affect their energy usage on a minute-to-minute basis if they choose, incorporating plug-in vehicles to act as energy storage and delivery systems and pulling together demand-site and utility-scale energy generation technologies, smart grids need to be developed and deployed to every city as quickly as possible.

But haste makes waste, as the saying goes.  On the way toward deploying smart grid technologies, robust systems that are well-planned and installed as advertised are obviously important.  That brings me to the first story: Xcel, critics await PUC’s smart-grid rate ruling.  A little bit of background: back in March 2008, Boulder, CO was announced as the first city where smart grid technologies would be deployed.  Originally, 15,000 smart grid meters were to be installed by Aug. 2009, with 50,000 meters installed by Dec. 2009, at a cost of “up to $100 million”.  I noted back in March 2009 that Xcel was running into some delays and that hard projections were becoming scarce to locate.  That trend has continued.  There is plenty of information available to participants in the program, but Xcel has understandably not advertised the kind of information they were when the program was announced.  As best as I can figure out, there are far fewer than 50,000 participants in Boulder’s smart grid program today.

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Moderate-to-Strong La Nina Will Continue Into 2011

If you’ve experienced Colorado weather since this summer, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve been warmer and drier than normal.  The monsoon never really kicked in; September 2010 was the 112th warmest and 18th driest (out of 116) September on record; October was the 102nd warmest October on record (with average precipitation state-wide); November is going to come close to average for temperature, and could do so for precipitation, though the northwest mountains have received above-average precipitation while the Front Range continues to track well below average.

Part of the blame for these conditions is the historically dramatic switch from strong El Nino conditions last winter to moderate-to-strong La Nina conditions by this fall.  Note the rapid change from the +1.9C SST anomaly to the -1.5C SST anomaly just 9 months later from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s ENSO monitoring webpage:
Nino 3.4 SST Index 20101121

Colorado tends to be warmer and drier under La Nina conditions, as this pdf from the Boulder NWS office shows (esp. pp 12&18).  Coincident with this La Nina, which should abate by next summer, is even more snow for northwest Colorado and more warm & dry conditions southeastward from there.

A few notes for those interested: The last El Nino event was the strongest on record since 1997-98.  The last El Nino’s strength and durations wasn’t forecasted particularly well by the suite of models used to do such things.  The current La Nina’s strength was much more accurately forecasted, although the rapidity of regime change wasn’t handled quite as well.  Neutral El Nino/La Nina conditions should return by next summer or fall.

ENSO continues to be one of the strongest causes of monthly and seasonal temperature and precipitation trends.  Underlying ENSO and other oscillations is global warming, which is already directly affecting the Arctic and will show up more prominently at lower latitudes in coming years.  The effects on ENSO and other oscillations by global warming is an area of ongoing research.

Cross-posted at SquareState.


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Health Insurance Cos. Secretly Gave Millions To Defeat Health Care Reform Effort

What will the pro-incrementalists say?  $86.2 million were given to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by the largest health insurance corporations, which the Chamber used to undermine health care reform legislative efforts in 2009 and 2010.

As eventually became clear, but not until too late, health care reform became a Health Insurance Giveaway orchestrated by Democrats and opposed by Republican Teabaggers who were only hell-bent on destroying the Obama Presidency.  They Republican Teabaggers could give a fig leaf less whether the legislation passed or  not, or what form it took.  They’re only interest is in putting a Teabagger back in the White House and continuing this country’s march back to the 1750s.

On the Democratic side, I read and talked to folks for months who advocated taking a small chunk, any small chuck that could be salvaged from the gutter and declaring the first step toward health care reform taken.  Incrementalists were happy to point out that health insurance corporations were supposedly in negotiations with President Obama and Congressional Democrats in an effort to help pass health care reform. This news publicizes the lie behind that duplicitous sham.  I’m sure the incrementalists will say now that those millions of dollars didn’t make much of a difference, that reform was successfully attained.  I think it demonstrates how patently absurd it was for any Democrat to believe that the health insurance companies were negotiating with Obama and Democrats in good faith.  They got exactly what they wanted at the end of the day.  Can the same be said for most Americans?

I suppose the rest of us should thank the incrementalists for helping ensure 34 million Americans will be forced to purchase insurance from private insurers but remain without any public option that would help drive costs down.  Or, we can stop listening to the incrementalists and stand up more forcefully for what we want – on health care and other issues.


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White House: Search For Jobs

bbd at dKos says it better than anyone else I’ve seen.  It’s short.   It’s sweet.  It gets the exact correct message across.  Now only if the White House would do it.  I’m copying the post in its entirety:

The Washington Post reports that the White House is engaged in some “soul-searching” after the brutal election loss:

The advisers are deeply concerned about winning back political independents, who supported Obama two years ago by an eight-point margin but backed Republicans for the House this year by 19 points. To do so, they think he must forge partnerships with Republicans on key issues and make noticeable progress on his oft-repeated campaign pledge to change the ways of Washington.

Even more important, senior administration officials said, Obama will need to oversee tangible improvements in the economy. They cannot just keep arguing, as Democrats did during the recent campaign, that things would have been worse if not for administration policies.

One adviser said they spent the past dozen days “soul-searching.”

Emphasis mine.

I’d like to save you folks in the White House a whole bunch of trouble. When you all look for your souls, you had better find something that looks like JOBS. That is your soul. Your soul is JOBS.

Your soul is not a smooth, orderly process. Your soul is not bipartisan compromise with Republicans. The GOP could care less about “changing the ways of Washington.” What independents care about right now is results. Results = jobs. Plain and simple.

I simply can’t state it any better: When the White House looks for souls, they had better find JOBS.  That’s it.  That’s what Americans want.  Period, end of story.


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Bird Beak Deformation 10X Normal In Northwest North America

“The highest rate of beak abnormalities ever recorded in wild bird populations has been detected in Alaska and the Northwest, according to a new study.”

The keratin layer of the beak becomes overgrown, resulting in elongated and often crossed beaks. The deformity showed up in adults birds, most often in the upper beak but sometimes in the lower beak or both.  The abnormality — sometimes accompanied by elongated claws, abnormal skin or variations in feather color — impacts a bird’s ability to feed and clean itself.

Many of the birds with the deformities are eating at human-provided feeders, thankfully.  Scientists are searching for the cause of such a large prevalence of cases.  Environmental pollution is a likely candidate.


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White House Altered Offshore Drilling Safety Report

I was one of many who took the Bush Regime to task for manipulating science reports in an overtly political manner in order to push their pre-conceived agenda.

I would therefore be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that the Obama administration altered an offshore drilling safety report in a manner that made it “falsely appear that scientists and experts supported the administration’s six-month ban on new deep-water drilling.”

The inspector general said the editing changes by the White House resulted “in the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed.” But it hadn’t been. Outside scientists were asked only to review new safety measures for offshore drilling.

Last month, staff for the presidential oil spill commission said that the White House’s budget office delayed publication of a scientific report that forecast how much oil could reach the Gulf’s shores. Federal scientists initially used a volume of oil that did not account for the administration’s various cleanup efforts, but the government ultimately cited smaller amounts of oil.

The same report said that President Barack Obama’s energy adviser, Carol Browner, mischaracterized on national TV a government analysis about where the oil went, saying it showed most of the oil was “gone.” The report said it could still be there. It also said that Browner and the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Jane Lubchenco, contributed to the public’s perception the report was more exact than it was by emphasizing peer review.

The good news:

After one of the reviewers complained, the Interior Department promptly issued an apology during a conference call, in a formal letter and during a personal meeting in June.

Let me go on the record as saying that any attempt, purposeful or not, to illicit a greater sense of acceptance of what the administration was saying in part due to scientists’ signing off on statements or positions is inappropriate.  I am glad to hear that apologies and corrections were made.  I certainly hope incidents like this don’t happen in the future.  Obama ran on a platform of listening to what scientists had to say and using their expert voice to support crafting policies.  Policies shouldn’t be pursued while stretching, contorting or manipulating that scientific advice.


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General Electric To Buy 25,000 Electric Vehicles

Expect more of this kind of news: General Electric has seen the writing on the wall and has decided to buy 25,000 electric vehicles for its fleet by 2015.  They will make an initial purchase of 12,000 GM cars, beginning with the Chevy Volt.

This is good news on a number of fronts.  Most importantly, tens of thousands of electric vehicles on the road means that much less oil needs to be drilled, transported, sold and burned in the United States.  The next phase in a 21st century grid will require less coal and natural gas burning, but less demand for oil is good for the environment and our national security.  It demonstrates that electric vehicles are viable transportation choices for fleet cars, which means cars like the Volt will be on the road and visible to the public in greater numbers sooner.  It will allow for smarter grid technologies to be implemented in more places.  It will help push the cost of electric vehicles lower moving forward.  Hundreds of thousands of electric vehicle sales will have to be made to start doing this.  The more, the merrier.  This will have a direct and nearly immediate benefit to GE – they are developing charging stations to sell.  There’s nothing like real-world use to make charging stations’ performance more efficient and robust.

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