Nel's New Day

February 16, 2021

Climate Change Creates Havoc in the U.S.

The biggest story in the past few days has been the weather. In just the United States, about 150 million people—almost half the population—was under winter storm warnings. Texas may have been the worst problems across nation with more than 4.2 million customers losing power, many of them for extended periods of time. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency for the red state so that FEMA can provide help.

On Fox network, anti-Democrat and anti-Biden Tucker Carlson declared wind energy was completely responsible for the electricity shortage because the “windmills froze.” He called wind turbines “fashion accessories” while ignoring their success in freezing areas such as Iowa and Denmark. Wind turbines help power thousands of homes in the interior of Alaska during the winter as well as in the Baltic, northern Scotland, and other cold areas.

Authorities explain that rolling blackouts to spread the power across more customers became necessary after natural gas, a fossil fuel, froze inside pipelines not made for the current weather conditions in Texas. Compressors for the pipelines and coal piles froze as gauges and instruments did at natural gas, coal, and nuclear plants. In some areas such as Dallas, the temperature as low as 4 degrees Fahrenheit was lower than Anchorage (AK). Plummeting temperatures caused spikes in use of electricity, leading to outages for unknown lengths of time. With the severe shortage of power, companies prioritized gas for heating homes and businesses instead of generating electricity, leaving people with electric furnaces, 60 percent of the population, in the cold with no electricity. Pipes will freeze because the shortage of electricity means no running water. Cell phone service is disappearing because backup generators at towers are freezing or running out of fuel or both.”

Meanwhile wholesale prices for natural gas went up as much as 4,000 percent. In northern Texas, the cost of a megawatt-hour went from an average of $18 to $300; Houston saw an increase in megawatt hour from $22 to $9,000. The increase in price was partly responsible for the lack of electricity: power management “shed load”—cut off customers—instead of dealing with the cost spikes.

A serious issue in Texas is its insistence on operating its own power grid, managed by the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), for 90 percent of the state’s electricity serving 26 million customers. Texas is the largest oil, natural gas, and wind energy producer in the country. Outside Texas, power company revenues pay to have generators on call during times of high demand, Texas electricity customers pay only for the power actually provided. Prices are lower during normal times, but the grid reliability suffers during times of spiking electricity demand.

Daniel Cohan, a Rice associate professor of environmental engineering, call ERCOT “an island.” In desperate circumstances, the state has nowhere to go to more energy, and the state hasn’t maintained its grid. Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the department of economics at the University of Houston, said, “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.”

The map (left) shows the widespread liability of a separate grid with lack of regulation. 

ERCOT’s predictions for the winter, using past winters, assumed it had sufficient resources and expected to lose about 8,600 megawatts in the winter for a peak demand of 58,000 megawatts. Instead, 34,000 megawatts went offline at the same time as a peak of 69,000 megawatts in the storm.

Texas built its own grid after the 1935 Federal Power Act regulated interstate electricity sales. ERCOT operates outside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and assumes natural gas will always be available. Instead the liquid froze. As of Monday afternoon, over three-fourths of ERCOT’s gigawatts offline were from gas and coal. Yet publicity blames the wind and solar energy while using the current chaos as an excuse to raise utility rates. Ten years ago, when fossil fuel power underperformed, the conservatives falsely called the outages “a direct consequence of the Obama administration’s agenda to lay siege to the coal industry.” In that decade, Texas drillers have burned off massive quantities of natural gas–$750 billion worth in just 2018—instead of using it for the grid.

What Tucker Carlson doesn’t know—or refuses to admit:

  • Wind turbine outages are responsible for less than 13 percent of Texas’ power shortages.
  • ERCOT predicted wind turbines would produce only 10 percent of the state’s winter electricity; less than half the share of 22.9 percent in the summer.
  • Over 80 percent of the power shortfall came from problems at coal- and gas-fired plants.
  • During the power shortage this week, wind turbines exceeded expectations because of the winds generated by the storm spinning the blades faster than usual.

As of Tuesday evening, the weather has killed at least 25 people in the U.S. from tornadoes, fires, car crashes, carbon monoxide poisoning, etc. In Louisiana, a man died after he fell on ice and hit his head. The windchill went from Canada into Mexico, and snow fell on the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Snow covered over 73 percent of mainland U.S., the largest area since records began in 2003. All except three of the 48 mainland states had snow.

Delays in COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries slowed the distribution as did the inability of people to get to vaccination sites. Medical personnel frantically looked for people to vaccinate after power and generators failed. The 2,000 record lows included -26F in Sioux Falls (SD) and -38F in Minnesota, and at least 20 cities experienced their coldest weather in history. More records are expected. 

Over 2,700 U.S. flights were canceled with 800 at Dallas-Fort Worth and 700 in Houston. Another 1,300 flights were delayed. In just Alabama, 100 school systems closed. San Antonio canceled all its flights.

The Dallas Stars postponed a National Hockey League game against the Nashville Predators, and the Houston Chronicle failed to print the paper after the plant lost power, something that didn’t even happen during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Abilene (TX) shut off water services at all three water treatment plants. At -16F, Tulsa (OK) had 113 broken water line since Sunday, and a parked patrol car couldn’t move because of frozen water around its wheels.

In Oregon, the coast stayed warm and wet, but much of the rest of the state was hit. About 330,000 people lost electricity, the largest number in recorded history. Heavy snow and ice brought down trees and branches, and the resulting blocked storm drains may cause flooding. Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order preventing price-gouging in nine Oregon counties because of unusual increases in lodging rates for temporary stays while power is out in homes.

Carlson’s next false claim may be that record low temperatures prove the fallacy of global warming. The rapid heating of the Arctic, however, pushes the North Pole’s cold air further south. It’s all part of climate change. Winter storms have been strongly increasing in the U.S. Northeast since 2008 as Arctic has heated up at a rate over twice the world’s average. Cold air around the North Pole, an area of low pressure tightly circulating during winter like a spinning top, is moving because of interference to the jet stream, strong winds at lower elevations than the polar vortex. Arctic warming causes a shift in the jet stream which then hits the polar vortex. Judah Cohen, the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, said, “Where the polar vortex goes, so goes the cold air.” In the past month, Europe has also seen huge gusts of snow.

The storm will likely continue across the nation on Wednesday with a return to average or above-average temperatures within seven to ten days. Wednesday, however, the sun will be out at my house on the Oregon Coast.

One bright spot: The United States no longer blocks assistance from states based on their politics. Biden promised unity, and the red state of Texas was the first to receive federal assistance. He made a call to red state governors Greg Abbott (R-TX), John Bel Edwards (D-LA), Andy Beshear (D-KY), Laura Kelly (D-KS), Bill Lee (R-TN), Tate Reeves (R-MS), and Kevin Stitt (R-OK). The call repeated that his administration is ready to answer requests for federal assistance and deploy federal emergency resources to help people in the storm.

January 7, 2014

Cold Brings Out Climate Change Crazies

This year the media has concentrated on the weather as subzero temperatures swept across many parts of the nation, and conservative pundits have responded with glee:

“This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bulls*** has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice.”—Donald Trump

“Global warming my gluteus maximus.”—Sarah Palin

“I would love to see Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Hillary sitting outside on the 50 yard line of Green Bay the whole game, and then afterwards do a presentation for us all on global warming.”—Rush Limbaugh

“We’re looking at global cooling, forget this global warming.”—Stuart Varney, Fox Business

These people all have one thing in common: they aren’t scientists. In contrast, scientist Jeff Masters said this:

“As the Earth gets warmer and more moisture gets absorbed into the atmosphere, we are steadily loading the dice in favor of more extreme storms in all seasons, capable of causing greater impacts on society. If the climate continues to warm, we should expect an increase in heavy snow events for a few decades, until the climate grows so warm that we pass the point where it’s too warm for it to snow heavily.”

Science writer Chris Mooney also pointed out that  “scientists … stuck in the ice” got trapped after ice broke off of a glacier. Mother Jones added that record lows in the U.S. are happening at the same time that the temperature is about 120 degrees in Australia.

Mark Fischetti, senior editor at Scientific American gave a brief explanation of the current “Polar Vortex”:

“More and more Arctic sea ice is melting during summer months. The more ice that melts, the more the Arctic Ocean warms. The ocean radiates much of that excess heat back to the atmosphere in winter, which disrupts the polar vortex. Data taken over the past decade indicate that when a lot of Arctic sea ice disappears in the summer, the vortex has a tendency to weaken over the subsequent winter.”

If you talk to an uneducated climate change denier, here is some information, starting with the difference between climate and weather–two different things.

Weather: the state of the earth’s atmosphere at a specific time, usually referring to day-to-day temperature and precipitation in a specific area over a short period of time.

Climate: trends in atmospheric conditions over a long period of time in a more generalized area.

Weather changes according to seasons because the Earth’s position toward the sun changes. The angle of sunlight changes because the Earth revolves around the sun. The Roman Catholic church condemned Galileo in 1633 for his position on the sun being the center of our universe and didn’t apologize until 21 years ago—to show you how slowly education comes to the people.

In the summer, the angle is more direct than in the winter. In the colder season the ground isn’t as warm because the heat is spread out and there are fewer hours of sunlight. The weather is bitterly cold in many parts of the United States right now because an Arctic-chilled air mass headed south. When a high pressure system weakens the polar jet stream, air goes from high pressure to low pressure. Heat causes storms, and more heat causes more energy to be distributed by the storm.

Drunk Jet-Stream-300x225Bioanthropologist Greg Laden pointed out that while the Arctic air heads south, the North Pole is “relatively warm.”  The cold has not expanded; it’s just taking an “excursion.” Jennifer Francis explained that global warming is causing the influx of extreme cold. She compared the wavy pattern of the jet stream to a “drunk walking along.” Less drastic changes in temperatures between northern and southern climates caused weakened west-to-east winds and thus the “drunk” jet stream. Alaska is warmer at this time, perhaps leading to Palin’s comment. The United Kingdom is suffering from extreme cold while Scandinavia is have a warm winter.

Francis pointed out that climate change will cause this pattern to be more and more common with “wild, unusual temperatures of both sides, both warmer and colder.”

Self-appointed climate authority Newt Gingrich doesn’t deny global warming, but he likes the idea. He cites his experiences as looking at exhibits of “Antarctic dinosaurs,” and the “glacial moraine” to explain that life was “just fine” at that time. David Kreutzer of the conservative Heritage Foundation agreed that scientists think that climate change is caused by humans, but he, too, doesn’t see any problem with a much warmer planet.

Gingrich has company from the Koch brothers’ sponsored ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). In a workshop last summer, Joseph Bast, president  of Heartland, told conservative state legislators that there is “no global warming trend” but if it were to get hotter, global warming “would be beneficial to the natural world and to human civilization.” Global warming, according to Bast, would help you live longer. Bast’s proof is that the amount of CO2 has increased during the past century at the same time that the average human lifespan has lengthened. A dropout from the University of Chicago, Bast majored in economics.

As Graham Wayne explained on, however, hotter average temperatures cause problems with the water supply for agriculture, increased ocean acidity causing an unstable food chain, sea level rise, etc. The belief that warmer winters would mean fewer deaths fails to take into consideration the increased number of deaths from increased heat, about five times as many as prevented with warmer winters. Warmer climate also encourages disease-bearing insects such as mosquitoes to migrate; malaria is currently showing up in more and more places.

One serious problem of climate change is shown in California by the severe drought of 2013 when the jet stream tracked far north of normal over the eastern Pacific for the entire year. The warmer than normal air and higher than normal pressure pushed the usual West Coast storms toward Alaska while it brought cool air to the central and eastern United States. Ducks happily splashed during December in Siberia’s ice-free River Yenisei while California reservoirs dried up.

Instead of its average annual 30 inches of rain, Santa Cruz got 4.78 for all of 2013, a drop from the previous record low of 11.85 inches. Snowpacks are 20 percent of normal at the end of the year. There is no apparent end to the California drought. Scientists tie the bizarre jet stream pattern to very warm oceans and the distribution of heat in them. Another possibility is the accelerated trade winds and ocean currents from fresh water provided by melting Antarctica glaciers.

The enhanced greenhouse effect is, and will, cause serious problems for the planet. Greenhouse effect: the sun’s visible light (radiation) heats the ground; the heated ground releases the heat back into the atmosphere as infrared radiation. Greenhouses gases trap the heat and send it back to the ground, meaning that the energy coming in is faster than the energy going out. Too much of these greenhouse gases means that the globe will get very hot very quickly.

Venus and Earth are almost the same size and have the same amount of CO2; most of the Earth’s CO2 is caught in rocks, however, while most of CO2 on Venus is in its atmosphere. Earth’s atmosphere contains .004% of CO2 while the atmosphere of Venus is made up of 96.5% of CO2. The average temperature of Earth is 59 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average temperature of Venus is 872 degrees Fahrenheit. As greenhouse gases like CO2 increase, the temperature increases.

Greenhouse gasses

Scientists predict that the planet will heat up by over 7 degrees by 2100 if the emissions of greenhouse gases are not cut. A warming planet means fewer clouds, reflecting less light back into space. Professor Steven Sherwood said about the higher temperature:

“It would make life difficult, if not impossible, in much of the tropics, and would guarantee the eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet and some of the Antarctic ice sheet. Climate skeptics like to criticize climate models for getting things wrong, and we are the first to admit they are not perfect. But what we are finding is that the mistakes are being made by the models which predict less warming, not those that predict more.”

Although the average of global air temperatures has not rapidly increased since 1998, the heat continues to be trapped by greenhouse gases with over 90 percent disappearing into the oceans. The temporary cushion for the planet has been the oceans, but this will not continue. The “pause” may also result from the lack of temperature readings from polar regions, where warming is greatest, according to a study last November.

Newt Gingrich asked, “What kind of hubris does it take to say, ‘I know exactly what this planet’s temperature ought to be and I’m gonna manage it to that effect’?” Even the Bible assigned the stewardship of our planet to humans. Doing nothing is failing in our responsibility.

As usual, Jon Stewart makes far more sense on his comedy show, The Daily Show, than the conservative politicians and pundits.

Climate change and global warming are supported by 29,000 scientists in almost 12,000 peer-reviewed papers. Ninety-seven percent of scientists believe in human-caused climate change. If even 29 doctors told me I had a brain tumor, I’d pay attention to their diagnosis. My question is why the conservatives weren’t talking about global warming during the extreme heat suffered by much of the United States 18 months ago.


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