Category Archives: Environment

We can’t breathe

Day #8 of AQI’s in the 400 to over 500 range. Was 438 a short time ago.

They originally thought we’d start clearing out Tuesday, then Wednesday, then Thursday, then Friday.

They’ve now updated their forecast to “smoke advisory through Saturday”.

We can’t breathe.

We are beyond frustrated – and frustrated with the faux leaders who are responsible for the massive fire dangers that were created by incompetent government policies. But rather than accept responsibility and take concrete actions, they engage in “climate damn emergency” hand waving that leaves us at high risk for decades to come. They don’t give a damn at the harm their polices have created.

Update: Late on Friday, rain came. In a very short time, air quality went from well over 300 to (unofficially) 27 or (officially) 63. The latter, official number appears to average over a longer period of time such that it did not yet capture the rapid air quality change. This week, this year, has been very difficult.

Wild fire history – a multi-variable problem

Global area burned 2003-2015, chart from NASA, based on satellite monitoring. Their data only goes up through 2015.

Source: Researchers Detect a Global Drop in Fires

U.S. historical fires, from the National Interagency Fire Center

It is odd that the fires in California and Oregon are caused solely by global climate change while this is not happening, per NASA, everywhere else.

For going to facts and data, as I always do, I will be called a denier, a Nazi and probably canceled. Even though I have not denied climate change and

  • I have invested large sums in a super insulated and sealed solar PV powered house
  • heated by locally sourced wood (which the UN and NASA call climate neutral),
  • And have carbon emissions just 1/4 that of the typical American house

in today’s perpetual culture of outrage, if the data does not agree 100% with your beliefs (facts do not matter) – then I must be canceled immediately as I am obviously a climate denier!

As I wrote a few days ago, the western wildfires are a multi-variable problem, not a single variable. A lot of people have jumped on their ideological ponies to push that the problem is exclusively climate change or exclusively forest management or “forest raking” (what is that?). It is not any one of those – it is a multi-variable problem.

What is the climate control knob you could have adjusted 5 years ago to prevent the regional fires in California and Oregon?

My fear – and it is a real fear – is we will pour trillions of dollars into climate solutions, much of which will likely not work to control climate or fires – and our local forests will still be burning for the remainder of my life.

Because our faux leadership of both major political parties would rather fight ideological battles than actually stop fires. They only care about keeping you emotionally riled up – they don’t give a shit for solving real problems.

We have not been outside in a week

We are now at one week of Air Quality Index values hitting around 500 +/- each day.

The outside air is unbreathable. We have been confined to our sealed house for a week. Only some very brief times have been outdoors and then only while wearing a home made, 3D printed dual-HEPA layers filtered mask that appears to effectively remove most of the smoke smell.

Much of this smoke is coming from the Lionshead Fire, a lightning started fire that began on August 16th. Much of its burn footprint is in a designated wilderness area. We have had hazy/smoky skies since August 21. By September 11th, our air quality went from merely poor to off scale. Literally off scale – as the AQI was above 500 on a scale that only goes to 500.

Anything above 300 is “hazardous”.

The August 16th fires exploded as high winds from an Arctic cold air mass/high pressure system poured in to the area, with winds of 55-75 mph on ridge tops, and 50 to 60 mph within canyons on the west side of the Cascades. This began on Sep 7 and finally died down on Sep 9th. In a matter of about a day, a 500 acre fire blew up to over 100,000 acres. The 22,000 acre Lionshead Fire is now up to almost 200,000 acres.

When fires are caused by natural forces in wilderness areas, the general policy is to let them burn. Additionally, as there are no existing roads, access is difficult. Plus mechanical contrivances are not allowed except – typically – to rescue seriously injured persons – thus the rule of thumb is to let them burn as part of natural processes.

For those of us downwind, our own lives are at stake from this foul air.

I do not know if they intend to let it burn or to fight it, or to only fight the parts outside the wilderness area. An incident commander was quoted yesterday saying this fire will not be out until winter comes – meaning that this fire may continue for another month or more.

This is a health disaster for the few hundred thousand of us living within this region. Sadly, no politician gives a damn – each is using these events to further their political ideologies – without actually solving real problems. All politicians are mostly scum – they are definitely not leaders and show few skills of actual leaders.

Update: We are now on day #8 with readings in the 400 to 500+ range. We can’t breathe either.

Air Quality Index

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a numeric indicator of local air quality. Since last Thursday night, our AQI has been in the 500 to 526 range. The range only goes up to 500. Anything above 300 is considered hazardous to health for all.

We live in the area of the fires in Oregon.

We’ve been sealed up inside your home since Thursday. Fortunately, there is little smoke smell inside as our house is sealed very tight – but outside it was extremely difficult to breath. The smoke led to headaches, fatigue, sore throat and a slight shortness of breath – classic symptoms of smoke inhalation, I am told.

As of right now, the AQI has fallen to 169 which is a noticeable improvement, however this is not yet to a normal range.

The fire storm was caused by an early Arctic air mass (high pressure) descending south from Canada. The winds blew from the colder, high pressure to the warmer, low pressure to the south and on the west of the Cascades. This caused very strong winds to blow for 1-2 days, crossing mountain ridges at 55 to 75 mph and pouring down west side mountain canyons.

Routine summer thunderstorms had started fires on August 16th, fires which had been fought since then. The Lionshead fire had grown to about 22,000 acres – but then when the winds hit, exploded by over 100,000 acres in about 24 hours. Similarly, Beachie Creek Fire had also started on August 16th and was at only 500 acres when the winds hit – and it too was soon over 100,000 acres (now 190,000 acres) in size.

The cold air mass poured into the valleys and plains – creating an inversion layer of colder air that would not mix with the warmer air above. This trapped the smoke near the ground.

Yesterday – and likely again today – we will see the effects of the weakening inversion. Yesterday, AQI fell to around 250 in the afternoon but as the air mass cooled in the evening, it went back to 468 where it remained overnight. Suspect today’s lower reading will do the same this evening and repeat this pattern until late in the week when a fall weather storm system enters the area, delivering rain and breaking the inversion layer.

Wildfires and Solar Panels – Solarponics

Wildfires-and-solar-panels: The heavy ash sediment has been known to reduce power production by as much as 30% or more if not washed off.

Source: Wildfires and Solar Panels – Solarponics

I’ve been losing up to 20% of power production every day for the past couple of weeks due to drifting wildland fire smoke. While the smoke is billowing clouds on a few days, or the sky looks visibly smoky, most days are just “slightly hazy”. In the morning and evening, the sun is noticeably orange but we otherwise have blue skies.

Yet with these conditions we have dropped from about 30 kwh to 24-26 kwh power production each day.

I had to hose off the panels last week – there had been a few days with pretty heavy smoke in the air and that seemed to have deposited ash on the panels.

Nature Conservancy: “California: Let’s Stop Making Wildfire History”

Some of the factors that shape the frequency and severity of wildfire in California, like drought, record high temperatures and strong winds are beyond our control and in many cases, exacerbated by a changing climate. Other factors, such as how we manage our fire-adapted conifer forests, where we build homes and how we prepare and protect our communities are within our control.

Source: The Nature Conservancy – California: Let’s Stop Making Wildfire History

Media and social media have been quick to blame California’s fires (including recent years and the present) on climate change. Social media instapundits proclaim that “only if we had done X on climate change” this would not have happened. Or if “Politician X was not in office” we would have solved climate change and this would have prevented the fires.

But that makes no sense – what could have been done on climate change, last year, or five years ago or ten years ago or even 20 years ago that would have effected forest fires this year? If we magically ended all fossil fuel usage 20 years ago, the forest fire risk this year would have been exactly the same.

While dealing with climate is an issue, it would have done nothing vis a vis current fires. Nor will spending trillions on climate change in the next 10 or 20 years resolve California’s fire problems – since spending trillions diverts enormous sums to climate change, it  diverts money away from measures that would reduce California fire risk now.

We need to  control what we can control – now. And that is what this Nature Conservancy report says.

Update: More here on how building codes evolved to create safer structures in earthquake prone areas, whereas we have not evolved building codes to make safer fire proof structures in fire prone areas. Fire is a natural part of the California ecosystem – and now, millions of people are living within areas that are dependent on fire.

Continue reading Nature Conservancy: “California: Let’s Stop Making Wildfire History”

Hypothesis, not conclusion: “In the US, switching to EVs would save lives and be worth billions”

With a confidence interval between zero and infinity:

A team led by Northwestern’s Daniel Peters decided to have a particularly detailed look at this issue, examining several scenarios of grid generation and EV adoption in the US. The results show that even with today’s grid, switching to EVs produces significant benefits.

The researchers used simulated hourly air pollution data from vehicles around the country, along with emissions data for power plants. This went into a model of weather over the course of a year (2014, as it happens), which also simulated important chemical reactions and natural emissions of compounds that interact with pollutants. The resulting air quality simulations were applied to an EPA population health model to show the expected impact on human health.

Source: In the US, switching to EVs would save lives and be worth billions | Ars Technica

And this was pushed through climate models afterwards.

No matter how you slice it, when your model is based on assumptions, simulated values, multiple models, all applied on top of one another, you have created an interesting video game simulation.

Perhaps you can use it to produce multiple hypotheses. But one thing you cannot do – in any way, shape or form – is produce a useful forecast of anything. Claiming this pile of models produces definitive conclusions is scientific fraud.

Continue reading Hypothesis, not conclusion: “In the US, switching to EVs would save lives and be worth billions”

Renewable energy confronts reality in California

Millions of homes in California are enduring rolling black outs. The power system operator acknowledged that as demand spiked, due to high temperatures and AC demand – they lost 1 gigawatt of wind energy and nearly 1/2 gigawatt of a conventional power plant.

Peak energy use occurs late in the day – when solar power production is in decline relative to peak demand. Related – the internal resistance of solar panels goes up in high temperatures. From personal experience, I lose up to 10% of potential solar array power production during extreme heat events versus “normal” temperatures.

Because solar and wind cannot be “revved” up on demand, like conventional power plants, the utilities have to reduce demand by shutting off power to customers.

This is a well known engineering problem –  one that California  pretends does not exist. This week reality and physics intervened and they discovered that it does actually exist. Yesterday, Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged that California’s heavy reliance on renewable energy is a significant factor in their current rolling shutdowns.

Continue reading Renewable energy confronts reality in California

Hyperventilating: “The Dirty Secrets Of ‘Clean’ Electric Vehicles”

Sort of correct but said with an axe to grind approach:

The widespread view that fossil fuels are “dirty” and renewables such as wind and solar energy and electric vehicles are “clean” has become a fixture of mainstream media and policy makers of all persuasions. But, in the case of EVs, the dirty secrets of “clean energy” should seem apparent to all.

Source: The Dirty Secrets Of ‘Clean’ Electric Vehicles

  1. EV batteries require mining of raw materials, many of which come from economically poor countries with abusive labor practices. Rather than criticize what is, this seems to be an opportunity to create economic opportunities and as their economy grows, to address local corruption and labor practices.
  2. The author correctly notes that much of the life time energy consumption in a vehicle occurs during the manufacturing stage. Switching from gas-powered to electric-powered does not have as large an impact as many think. I have previously written about that. You are generally better off continuing to put more miles on your existing car, especially if you already drive a small or fuel efficient vehicle.
  3. For many EVs, the underlying power source is a fossil-fueled power plant. That is the case where I live – where 70% of our utility’s power generation is from (mostly) coal and some natural gas. That’s why we chose to put in solar PV at our house rather than purchase an EV. Our solar PV directly offsets that 70% of our local power company’s fossil fuel. And because we have become so economical with our electricity usage, we have a sufficient surplus of solar PV to recharge a future EV on site.
  4. EV subsidies are regressive. This is absolutely true. It is surprising the number of regressive tax policies that exist. For example, health insurance is deductible by employers – and the higher the pay of the employees, the greater the value of the tax subsidy. However, for many current EVs, the tax subsidy has already gone away once the manufacturer produced a certain number of vehicles.

The author of the above is not really wrong, but is hyperventilating with an axe to grind. They are real issues but most are fixable.