2019 Year-End Reflections (Blog #72)

CaliforniaGeo 12-27-19

Hello.  I’m Bill Martin, your leader at the California Geothermal Heat Pump Association.  We always push a consistent message— how renewable energy can replace fossil fuel use and the emissions they cause that threaten our health in the near term and our survival as a species in the long term.

Geothermal heat pumps are the best way I know to displace fossil emissions with the least consumption of electricity.  We anchor to the earth’s thermal battery and are the most benign technology for heating, cooling, and hot water production within conditioned space.

Join me now as we review the past in terms of what isn’t helping our struggle for climate defense and a few things that are a positive opportunity.  The cartoon alligator Pogo had a way of getting to the nub of things when he said, “We have met the problem, and it is us.”  Hopefully, an increasing number of citizens in the U.S. and worldwide can transform this realization into action.  Our governments’ policies need to follow our wishes, and right now, any further delay in cutting back carbon will doom us.  That’s an opinion backed by the conclusions of scientists, who have been smeared and denigrated by special interests trying to keep us carbon dependent while they profit. 

Worldwide CO2 build-up is not solely U.S.-caused, but we have been one of the three greatest contributors over decades.  Our citizens use more energy per capita than anyone else does, and if this was a morality-based equation, we’d be more responsible for the fix.

But even before the U.S. pullout from the Paris Accords when Trump took office in 2017, we haven’t had a unified goal and action plan to make a difference.  We could lead the world in green action and reap the benefit in business export of material and expertise, while stepping up to solve the problem.

Instead, we remain hamstrung by political forces that oppose any policy change that would make it tougher on extractive and polluting industries.  In fact, as a throw-back comparison to previous national policy to diminish the rate of smoking to improve health and save money, we continue to greatly subsidize fossil industries as we still subsidize tobacco.  That’s inconsistent as a policy.  If you want to encourage something you incentivize it  while dis-incentivizing the alternatives that don’t serve the policy.

Energy efficiency and being “green” used to be seen as ideologically narrow, as holding opinions among a fringe slice of society, and out-of-step with mainstream America.  While today’s news and social media can dispense less truthful content than it did throughout our media history—the stakes are higher now.  We’re not talking about political  advantage for the benefit of profit.  We’re facing extermination that’s still hard for some to see or understand.  But the scientific community sees it, documents it, and keeps trying to get our attention.

The previous timetable for climate disaster is now understood by scientists as proceeding faster than before; that means we have less time to act.  Here in California, we’ve had some positive steps in Los Angeles and Berkeley that are spreading to other jurisdictions.  Los  Angeles has begun to get away from gas “peaker plants” to generate electricity and Berkeley has become the first city in America to ban natural gas in new buildings (they were quickly followed by Menlo Park).

California has been crippled by fossil interests in its politics for a long time, while East Coast states like New York and Massachusetts have begun to break free.  New York banned fracking five years  ago and California has yet to regulate millions of gallons of fracking wastewater disposal in deep wells.

Nationally, we are making little progress on replacing carbon, and the U.S. Senate has stalled dozens of bills that would attempt an improvement in carbon economics.

We know that encouraging renewable energy sources while discouraging carbon is the correct path  to fighting climate change.  (Ahem) At least the scientists know this.  But government policy is woefully behind.  Just enough encouragement to pay lip service to  renewables, but nothing against carbon.

And this approach is protected by the results of a long campaign to claim that there are justified “climate deniers” who know that there is no risk to current policy choices—so why spend money or effort to change that?

There are many who are acting like a kid on a diving board for the first time, egged on by others wanting him/her to jump.  (“If I close my eyes and wait long enough, maybe the pressure to dive will go away.”)  They are not the first person to ignore the visible truth that many others successfully leap into the pool without difficulty.  If first  time divers are threatened with the myth that they’ll hurt themselves, they’ll behave according to the myth.  That doesn’t serve their long-term self-interest as swimmer-recreationists.

We are seeing wider variations in temperature and precipitation than we have  experienced in the past.  Many of these are citically important to our economy and our safety.  Australia is (right now) experiencing its highest ever average recorded temperature (107.4°).

Regardless of the opinions of older Americans, the young are acting as though they have a dog in this fight against climate change (and they do).   They ask the moral question of “How can the current and previous mature generations of Americans behave irresponsibly toward the future of the young?”  This question still hangs in the air, unanswered, except for not much action on climate change.  Progress is accidental when it needs to be intentional and the young know this.

“SharpieGate” was a hurricane path prediction that differed from that of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s.  It showed Alabama as part of the target zone and NOAA went public with a denial but the White House demanded an equivocating news release re-emphasizing the threat to AL.  Unfortunately, costly, chaotic and unnecessary evacuations proceeded.   

There are now lawsuits by governments against the fossil giants that cannot be brushed away.  In the Massachusetts case, the Supreme Court ruled in the winter of 2019 that it was valid enough to proceed to evidence “discovery,” and ExxonMobil will face serious sanction if the documentary evidence is withheld or destroyed.  New York sued on similar grounds and that case is pending.  It intends to divest fossil stocks from its pension fund investment portfolio and this is a policy tool similar to an economic boycott and will leave fossil businesses less able to raise the cash necessary for their long-term needs.

The gist of these lawsuits is that the petroleum giants’ own scientists predicted global warming from the combustion of their products, decades ago.  Yet these corporations (in what is seen to be a close approximation of a previous campaign by tobacco companies) sought to bury this evidence and work to undermine the growing scientific attention to climate change. 

Ideally, our laws protect the general public and the courts decide if they’ve been broken.  If not, the public can demand greater controls and sanctions in more restrictive statutes they force legislatures to pass.  Courts would later have to rule in deference to such tougher standards.  Public opinion is a strong influence to change the rules of what is acceptable. 

Continued global warming makes for greater extremes in near-term climate, resulting in lengthened fire seasons in places like California and Australia.  (At Right) a Simi Valley California blaze threatens a city in October, 2019.  California’s Paradise Fire in 2018 killed 87 people who could not escape a blaze that traveled eight miles in under 20 minutes due to high winds and dry fuel. 

Aside from slowly improving laws and regulations, other progress is being made.  The first electric commercial-scale airplane flew in the Fall of 2019 and after additional certification will enter service in under two years.  It joins electric trucks of all sizes and school buses that are already in operation.  New York ordered 500 of the electric buses.

De-carbonization efforts continue for buildings and a future of Beneficial Electrification is within reach.  Geo heat pumps are a big player in this future. 

District heat exchange loops that tie together multiple buildings (Below) can share loads between them in real time and reduce infrastructure costs while making this wider geothermal system the most efficient, anywhere.  Please discuss and promote climate change defense where you can!