How did Hurricane Fiona, a Category 1 storm, knock out Puerto Rico’s power?

A few media-following friends in the Northeast have been checking in, concerned that Hurricane Fiona, which knocked out power in Puerto Rico, is also trashing our neighborhood. They are reassured to learn that Puerto Rico is 1,000 miles from Palm Beach County, but it has made me wonder… given that (1) Fiona is only a Category 1 storm, (2) Puerto Rico can expect something similar every year or two (history), and (3) the power grid in Puerto Rico was recently rebuilt to the latest standards (after the 2017 Category 5 Hurricane Irma), why were the reported 85 mph winds enough to take the system out?

Is it simply impossible to make above-ground lines robust enough to handle 85 mph winds? Is the problem that trees will inevitably come down and break the lines even if the lines wouldn’t have been blown down? (But a newly engineered grid should be able to handle quite a few individual tree impacts because the power would be routed around the cut line.)

From state-sponsored NPR in 2021:

It’s been four years since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s electric power grid. Yet even after billions of dollars were allocated by the federal government to repair it, the island’s energy infrastructure is still in terrible shape. Blackouts continued this summer as the two entities responsible for operating the grid pointed fingers at each other over who is to blame. One of those two entities is Luma, a private company that was awarded a contract last year to distribute electricity around the island. The other is the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, known as PREPA, which used to be in charge of the whole system and now continues to operate the power plants.

The restoration process is very bureaucratic because you have Luma going through FEMA’s process, going through the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau’s process. And you also have Luma going through federal process and going through Puerto Rican process. And you know what? There’s not a single work already done with reconstruction funds. They’re still planning and designing. So this will take a lot of years before we see something better.

An IEEE article from 2018 doesn’t explain any of the engineering or technical details:

This past December, I traveled to Puerto Rico to report on this massive undertaking. I found contradictions everywhere I went. I saw utility workers fanned out across the island, yet progress remained excruciatingly slow. I met rank-and-file PREPA employees working flat out to restore power, yet each day brought a new report of fumbles at the utility’s top levels. And I heard many smart and exciting ideas for how to build a modern, resilient grid in Puerto Rico, even as the urgent need to restore power meant resurrecting the vulnerable existing system.

KSUA to TJSJ (skyvector):

Are we going to see “I stand with Puerto Rico” Facebook profile images? Or will people stick with this one:

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Climate change activist buys a stack of transatlantic plane tickets

“Camila Cabello, Shakira, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and More Sign Letter to Urge Congress to Act on Climate Change” (2021):

Camila Cabello partnered with the National Resources Defense Council Action Fund to help spearhead an initiative addressing climate change. And she’s not alone. Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Shakira joined alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Lady Gaga and Billie Eilish in urging Congress to pass climate change legislation.

Same person (2022):

Tons of CO2 will be emitted to transport two people who have just seen Hamilton in New York to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean to see… Hamilton.

While trying to watch an Artemis rocket launch that was subjected to abortion care we happened to chat with a Gulfstream pilot who talked about working for some Silicon Valley righteous. They wouldn’t allow plastic bottles on their private jets because that was environmentally unsound. But they had no qualms about firing up a 100,000 lb. jet to carry one or two passengers on a leisure trip.

Some detail from Ham4Choice:

We are devastated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling eliminating the right to an abortion which has been a right since 1973. In response, we are teaming up with organizations providing support, access, and travel expenses to those seeking these services.

We’re stronger when we work together. We can stand up for every person’s right to make decisions about their own body and their own lives. Join HAMILTON & Friends in the fight for reproductive access and reproductive choice today.


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Europeans cutting down their forests

Most of this is unrelated to the recent natural gas price increases…. “Europe Is Sacrificing Its Ancient Forests for Energy” (New York Times, today):

Burning wood was never supposed to be the cornerstone of the European Union’s green energy strategy.

When the bloc began subsidizing wood burning over a decade ago, it was seen as a quick boost for renewable fuel and an incentive to move homes and power plants away from coal and gas. Chips and pellets were marketed as a way to turn sawdust waste into green power.

Those subsidies gave rise to a booming market, to the point that wood is now Europe’s largest renewable energy source, far ahead of wind and solar.

Some of this falls into the “what’s old is new” category, I think. When people from England invaded North America in the 17th and 18th centuries they expressed amazement at how much forest was available for the cutting. More or less everything in England that could be cut already had been cut.

Forests in Finland and Estonia, for example, once seen as key assets for reducing carbon from the air, are now the source of so much logging that government scientists consider them carbon emitters. In Hungary, the government waived conservation rules last month to allow increased logging in old-growth forests.

And while European nations can count wood power toward their clean-energy targets, the E.U. scientific research agency said last year that burning wood released more carbon dioxide than would have been emitted had that energy come from fossil fuels.

Let’s have a look at a forest that has already been cut quite a bit… Vigeland Park in Oslo.

The peace that comes from being a parent is depicted:

How about riding a horse through the forest?

Experience the joy of interacting with wildlife in the forest:

How about these gates for your back yard?

Need some ideas for your next Cirque du Soleil show?

There were a fair number of Norwegians in convivial groups of 2-10 enjoying the park at 4 pm on a Tuesday. Apparently, if a country has a small population of humans and a large population of oil and gas wells not everyone will have to work long hours in the dreary office.

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How will Earth’s climate be affected by the Inflation Reduction Act?

“Biden signs sweeping climate, health care, tax bill into law” (state-sponsored NPR):

President Biden signed Democrats’ hallmark spending bill into law on Tuesday…

The sweeping bill allocates more than $300 billion to be invested in energy and climate reform. It’s the largest federal clean energy investment in U.S. history, although it falls short of what progressive Democrats and climate activists had originally called for.

“This bill is the biggest step forward on climate ever — ever — and is going to allow us to boldly take additional steps toward meeting my climate goals,” Biden said.

It includes $60 billion for boosting renewable energy infrastructure in manufacturing, like solar panels and wind turbines, and includes tax credits for electric vehicles and measures to make homes more energy efficient.

Democrats say the bill will lower greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, based on 2005 levels, by the end of the decade, which falls short of Biden’s original goal.

It looks like we’ve already cut emissions a bit via the miracle of sending all of our manufacturing to Mexico and China (

By 2030, thanks to just $300 billion in spending (less than a month of coronapanic spending? less than the total fraud that Americans perpetrated against the U.S. Treasury in obtaining COVID-tagged funds?), the U.S. economy will be reconfigured to push only about 4 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere rather than today’s 6 gigatons.

Here’s a question… how will this change the Earth’s climate? Can beachfront property owners now rest easy (and maybe send thank-you cards to working class taxpayers in the Midwest who funded the protection of their $20 million houses)?

Climate modelers love to model. Did anyone in the climate-industrial complex plug Joe Biden’s clean new USA into a model and figure out whether Houston becomes a pleasant place to spend summers?

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Can we catch up to China in CO2 emissions even if our economy is smaller?

“Crytopmining Capacity in U.S. Rivals Energy Use of Houston, Findings Show” (New York Times, July 15):

the seven companies alone had set up to tap as much as 1,045 megawatts of power, or enough electricity to power all the residences in a city the size of Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city with 2.3 million residents.

Note that the headline contains multiple lies. The population of Houston is roughly 7 million if we include the actual city and ignore arbitrary political boundaries. And there are a lot of industrial users of electricity in Metro Houston, e.g., oil refineries. So the amount of electricity usage implied by the headline could be 20-30X what is described in the body (just residential usage and only for the 2.3 million people who live in the center of the city).

The good news is that we will be rich. Crypto can’t fail, like real estate, because of the old adage “they’re not making any more bits.” Yet the U.S. will be making some more bits while China is eating our dust (literally, after it blows around the world a bit).

People used to complain that we were exporting our pollution to poorer countries. Now it is China that is exporting pollution to the U.S.:

The United States has seen an influx of cryptocurrency miners, who use powerful, energy-intensive computers to create and track the virtual currencies, after China cracked down on the practice last year. Democrats led by Senator Elizabeth Warren are also calling for the companies to report their emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that is the main driver of climate change.

I’m a little concerned that I find myself in agreement with Elizabeth Warren!

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Frontiers of confidence in child-rearing

“Climate anxiety is widespread among youth—can they overcome it?” (National Geographic):

Katie Cielinski and Aaron Regunberg are millennials. But they regard themselves as climate change babies. They came of age as the world was first awakening to the catastrophic impact that people were having on the environment.

Before marrying in 2017, the couple wrestled for nearly a decade with the ethical quandary of whether to bring another human onto an already crowded planet. Katie argued for raising a climate ally, somebody who would fight for a healthy planet, but Aaron feared for the future their child would face.

Meanwhile, Katie Cielinski and Aaron Regunberg are getting on with their lives. They resolved their uncertainty and their son, Asa, was born in March, 2021. They live in Providence, Rhode Island. Katie, a lawyer, works as a public defender. Aaron, who served four years in the state legislature, graduated from Harvard Law School last month. After a clerkship with a federal judge, he plans to practice environmental law.

“I want there to be good people in this generation to fight for what is right,” says Katie, explaining why they became parents.

“What finally got me was coming to an understanding that the fight for a livable future can’t just be about survival and stability,” Aaron says. “It’s also got to be a fight to keep our world from becoming a poorer, darker, lonelier place. For Katie and me, embracing that meant having this baby and teaching him about all the stuff there is to love in this world and committing our lives to fighting for him and, at some point, alongside him and alongside every other kid facing this uncertain future.”

There is no chance of the teenager rebelling in 2037 by burning some fossil fuel!

With their single child, produced after more than 10 years of dithering, I wonder if these folks will become another data point in the U-shaped fertility curve for the U.S.:

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Earth Day: Pinterest will help heal our planet?

Happy Earth Day, especially to those who live in single-family houses and drive SUVs!

This would be a great day to post a photo of your pavement-melting Ford Bronco to Pinterest, which will happily collect ad revenue from photographs of lavish consumption that burns the Earth’s resources. What can’t you post? “Pinterest announces ban on all climate misinformation” (Guardian, 4/6/2022):

Pinterest is to block all climate misinformation, as the image-focused social network seeks to limit the spread of false and misleading claims.

Under the new policy the site is committing to take down content that distorts or denies the facts of the climate crisis, whether posted as adverts or normal “organic” content.

Pinterest is defining misinformation broadly: the company will take down content that denies the existence or effects of climate change or its human causes, as well as content that “misrepresents scientific data” in order to erode trust in climate science and harmful, false or misleading content about natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Would it be possible to thrive on Pinterest posting photos of a soft-on-the-Earth lifestyle? Would there be a lot of users and ad revenue if a person posted pictures of his/her/zir/their one-bedroom apartment, 5-year-old bicycle, and donation of all surplus income to a tree-planting enterprise? The first result that I stumbled on after searching for “home” on Pinterest is 6,200 square feet:

A lot of what drives people to consume more is envy and shame-avoidance, right? If Pinterest wants to help the Earth, wouldn’t the correct course of action be shutting down Pinterest so that people would be more likely to be happy with what they already have?

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Did we ever figure out whether corn-based ethanol is good or bad for our beloved planet?

Kicking off a new Doublethink category for this blog…. “Biden will allow summertime sales of higher-ethanol gas as prices remain elevated.” (NYT):

Gasoline that contains ethanol reduces pollution, as indicated by the “Cleaner Air for Iowa” sticker (not to be confused with an “I did that” Joe Biden sticker, which can lead to being arrested).

The text of the article, however, says that gasoline that contains ethanol increases pollution:

Ethanol is made from corn and other crops and has been mixed into some types of gasoline for years as a way to reduce reliance on oil. But the blend’s higher volatility can contribute to smog in warmer weather. For that reason, environmental groups have traditionally objected to lifting the summertime ban…

Oil refiners are required to blend some ethanol into gasoline under a pair of laws, passed in 2005 and 2007, intended to lower the use of oil and the creation of greenhouse gases by mandating increased levels of ethanol in the nation’s fuel mix every year. However, since passage of the 2007 law, the mandate has been met with criticism that it has contributed to increased fuel prices and has done little to lower greenhouse gas pollution.

Perhaps the contradiction is only an apparent one in that the ethanol blend will reduce pollution in colder weather.

This reminded me to wonder if anyone has ever figured out definitively whether this 17-year-old policy helps or harms Planet Earth. Consider “U.S. corn-based ethanol worse for the climate than gasoline, study finds” (Reuters, February 14, 2022):

Corn-based ethanol, which for years has been mixed in huge quantities into gasoline sold at U.S. pumps, is likely a much bigger contributor to global warming than straight gasoline, according to a study published Monday.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, contradicts previous research commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) showing ethanol and other biofuels to be relatively green.

The research, which was funded in part by the National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Department of Energy, found that ethanol is likely at least 24% more carbon-intensive than gasoline due to emissions resulting from land use changes to grow corn, along with processing and combustion.

Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a law enacted in 2005, the nation’s oil refiners are required to mix some 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol into the nation’s gasoline annually. The policy was intended to reduce emissions, support farmers, and cut U.S. dependence on energy imports.

As a result of the mandate, corn cultivation grew 8.7% and expanded into 6.9 million additional acres of land between 2008 and 2016, the study found. That led to widespread changes in land use, including the tilling of cropland that would otherwise have been retired or enrolled in conservation programs and the planting of existing cropland with more corn, the study found.

Tilling fields releases carbon stored in soil, while other farming activities, like applying nitrogen fertilizers, also produce emissions.

A 2019 study from the USDA, which has been broadly cited by the biofuel industry, found that ethanol’s carbon intensity was 39% lower than gasoline, in part because of carbon sequestration associated with planting new cropland.

We have Scientific Certainty (TM) on all subjects related to COVID, e.g., the effectiveness of ordering schoolchildren to wear masks, the ability of vaccines to end the global pandemic (just one more shot for all of us and SARS-CoV-2 will be gone!), and the need to require incoming travelers from zero-COVID China to produce a negative test while the undocumented may stream over the southern border and stay indefinitely with no testing or vaccination prerequisite. The question of whether growing more corn to burn in our pavement-melting SUVs increases or decreases CO2 emissions should be a comparatively simple one and yet Science cannot agree with him/her/zir/theirself.

Readers: What do we think? Do we go with the obvious “corn-based ethanol is bad”? Or are we convinced by the USDA??

Separately, for California readers, a couple of photos from Sunday, April 10 at Florida’s Turnpike Exit 152:


  • Factory farms may be killing coral reefs, not a warming planet (fertilizer dumped on corn fields eventually finds its way into the ocean)
  • Book that explores the biggest issue of our age: About 40 percent of the fertilizer applied in the last sixty years wasn’t assimilated by plants; instead, it washed away into rivers or seeped into the air in the form of nitrous oxide. Fertilizer flushed into rivers, lakes, and oceans is still fertilizer: it boosts the growth of algae, weeds, and other aquatic organisms. When these die, they rain to the ocean floor, where they are consumed by microbes. So rapidly do the microbes grow on the increased food supply that their respiration drains the oxygen from the lower depths, killing off most life. Where agricultural runoff flows, dead zones flourish. Nitrogen from Middle Western farms flows down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico every summer, creating an oxygen desert that in 2016 covered almost 7,000 square miles.
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Does it make sense to have a “Climate Pledge” stadium hosting regular gatherings of 19,000 people?

Despite my passion for Climate Science, I hadn’t noticed that Seattle is now the home of the “Climate Pledge Arena,” a sports stadium seating over 18,000 people (so, including workers, that would be a gathering of up to 19,000 for every sold-out game). Amazon bought the naming rights, but decided that it should be called “Climate Pledge” rather than “Amazon Prime” or “EC2 and S3”.

I’m wondering if this name makes sense given that it is tough to think of anything more destructive to our beloved Mother Earth than a sports stadium. $1.15 billion was spent on renovating the stadium, which means $1.15 billion that wasn’t spent on planting climate-healing trees. A huge quantity of concrete was no doubt used and the cement industry emits roughly 8 percent of world’s CO2 pollution (BBC). Every time an event occurs at this stadium, thousands of people drive their gas-guzzling, CO2-spewing vehicles to and from the Climate Pledge Arena, a practice that is explicitly encouraged by the Climate Pledgers: “Parking is available at every price point for every budget.” says .

Fans from the “away” team will often fly in from hundreds or thousands of miles away, generating additional CO2 in the process. (But also “live music” according to Google Maps; see below.)

Americans were willing to #StayHomeSaveLives for two years. Shouldn’t Americans be willing to #StayHomeSaveMotherEarth and watch sporting events on TV, thus reducing by at least 90 percent the number of car trips for each event?

Note that climate pledging is not the only important cause in Seattle. Here are some photos from an August 2019 trip:

The above photos were included in Is LGBTQIA the most popular social justice cause because it does not require giving money?

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Even with COVID-19 anxiety, there is always room for climate anxiety

For readers who demand to know why I continue to pay for a NYT subscription… “Climate Change Enters the Therapy Room” (NYT, today):

Ten years ago, psychologists proposed that a wide range of people would suffer anxiety and grief over climate. Skepticism about that idea is gone.

It would hit Alina Black in the snack aisle at Trader Joe’s, a wave of guilt and shame that made her skin crawl.

Something as simple as nuts. They came wrapped in plastic, often in layers of it, that she imagined leaving her house and traveling to a landfill, where it would remain through her lifetime and the lifetime of her children.

She longed, really longed, to make less of a mark on the earth. But she had also had a baby in diapers, and a full-time job, and a 5-year-old who wanted snacks. At the age of 37, these conflicting forces were slowly closing on her, like a set of jaws.

In the early-morning hours, after nursing the baby, she would slip down a rabbit hole, scrolling through news reports of droughts, fires, mass extinction. Then she would stare into the dark.

It was for this reason that, around six months ago, she searched “climate anxiety” and pulled up the name of Thomas J. Doherty, a Portland psychologist who specializes in climate.

Eco-anxiety, a concept introduced by young activists, has entered a mainstream vocabulary. And professional organizations are hurrying to catch up, exploring approaches to treating anxiety that is both existential and, many would argue, rational.

Though there is little empirical data on effective treatments, the field is expanding swiftly.

Caroline Wiese, 18, described her previous therapist as “a typical New Yorker who likes to follow politics and would read The New York Times, but also really didn’t know what a Keeling Curve was,” referring to the daily record of carbon dioxide concentration.

Ms. Wiese had little interest in “Freudian B.S.” She sought out Dr. Doherty for help with a concrete problem: The data she was reading was sending her into “multiday panic episodes” that interfered with her schoolwork.

Note that both patient and therapist are described as living in Portland, Oregon, but they met via videoconference.

I’m still confused how people who are convinced that 50 percent of humanity will die due to climate change can simultaneously be concerned that COVID-19 will kill up to 1 percent of humanity. (Also, the folks convinced that climate change is an existential threat tend to also be passionate supporters of unlimited migration from low-carbon-output societies to high-carbon-output societies. It is tough to think of a better way to accelerate climate doom than bringing millions of people from low-income countries to the carbon-profligate U.S.)

If you’re anxious about climate change and need a decent place to relax for the next few years, consider William Jennings Bryan’s old house in Miami. It will soon be inundated by the rising sea and can be yours for $150 million. From the preceding link, “sitting directly on the water” is a selling point.

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