### August 2010

Another in a continuing series of the gross misunderestimation of the externalities for the ways we presently produce energy and how these skew the perceptions of renewables. Take it away, Tom:

Let’s start with a recent editorial from the home of “free markets and free people,” the Wall Street Journal. Photovoltaic solar energy, quoth the mavens, is a “speculative and immature technology that costs far more than ordinary power.”

So few words, so many misconceptions. It pains me to say that because, like many business leaders, I grew up on the Wall Street Journal and still depend on it.

But I cannot figure out why people who call themselves “conservatives” would say solar or wind power is “speculative.” Conservatives know that word is usually reserved to criticize free-market activity that is not approved by well, you know who.

Today, around the world, more than a million people work in the wind and solar business. Many more receive their power from solar.

Solar is not a cause; it is a business with real benefits for its customers.

Read all about it. Clueless minions being manipulated by the producers of ‘ordinary energy’. This is all of piece with the Jane Mayer story from last week. Like the politics, the arguments against non-fossil energy sources fall apart if their proponents grant even the most minimal parameters of reality – which is why Al Gore must be fat, and Obama must be a Muslim.

Lee Ving, dig it.

Does everyone read arts& letters? I think I first saw this there.

Many will pose challenges to the countries that give birth to them. For though no nation can succeed without at least one thriving urban anchor — and even then, a functioning Kabul or Sarajevo is still no guarantee of national survival — it’s also true that globalization allows major cities to pull away from their home states, a reality captured by the massive and potentially dangerous wealth gap between city and countryside in second-world countries such as Brazil, China, India, and Turkey.

Neither 19th-century balance-of-power politics nor 20th-century power blocs are useful in understanding this new world. Instead, we have to look back nearly a thousand years, to the medieval age in which cities such as Cairo and Hangzhou were the centers of global gravity, expanding their influence confidently outward in a borderless world. When Marco Polo set forth from Venice along the emergent Silk Road, he extolled the virtues not of empires, but of the cities that made them great. He admired the vineyards of Kashgar and the material abundance of Xi’an, and even foretold — correctly — that no one would believe his account of Chengdu’s merchant wealth. It’s worth remembering that only in Europe were the Middle Ages dark — they were the apogee of Arab, Muslim, and Chinese glory.

Now as then, cities are the real magnets of economies, the innovators of politics, and, increasingly, the drivers of diplomacy. Those that aren’t capitals act like they are. Foreign policy seems to take place even among cities within the same country, whether it’s New York and Washington feuding over financial regulation or Dubai and Abu Dhabi vying for leadership of the United Arab Emirates. This new world of cities won’t obey the same rules as the old compact of nations; they will write their own opportunistic codes of conduct, animated by the need for efficiency, connectivity, and security above all else.

This is NOT an endorsement of Foreign Policy. Caveat lector and all that.

On a related note, the Republican Party is doomed. I guess the less said the better, but it seems to be the subtext of every other news story.

A friend who recently visited UCSB was telling me about the bike lanes all over campus there. But without the current crazy amount of car congestion on the campus just outside my window, that would be greatly alleviated by the use of bicycles – and the construction of dedicated bike lanes like you see here – I might not have tried to find a picture.

So… you can see it. But you can also see that such volume of riders is not just about getting people on bikes but also making bikes-as-transportation safe and reliable. It IS a way to get rid of many cars where close-proximity driving (less than 1 mile) is the norm. But it takes a commitment to develop the infrastructure to support it – just as it takes for cars. Unfortunately there is no sign of any such commitment presently visible from my or any other nearby windows.

When you’ve got enough of it, green means being able to influence elections, muddy the water on issues of the day, even fund fake grassroots movements, aka Tea Parties (R.I.P), all to stoke your corporate agenda while you call it libertarianism. Huzzah! Jane Mayer has a well-written and well-reported piece in The New Yorker on the Brothers Koch and their exploits. You should read it all; it’s like contemporary American history in the making:

In a 2002 memo, the Republican political consultant Frank Luntz wrote that so long as “voters believe there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community” the status quo would prevail. The key for opponents of environmental reform, he said, was to question the science—a public-relations strategy that the tobacco industry used effectively for years to forestall regulation. The Kochs have funded many sources of environmental skepticism, such as the Heritage Foundation, which has argued that “scientific facts gathered in the past 10 years do not support the notion of catastrophic human-made warming.” The brothers have given money to more obscure groups, too, such as the Independent Women’s Forum, which opposes the presentation of global warming as a scientific fact in American public schools. Until 2008, the group was run by Nancy Pfotenhauer, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. Mary Beth Jarvis, a vice-president of a Koch subsidiary, is on the group’s board.

Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego, is the co-author of “Merchants of Doubt,” a new book that chronicles various attempts by American industry to manipulate public opinion on science. She noted that the Kochs, as the heads of “a company with refineries and pipelines,” have “a lot at stake.” She added, “If the answer is to phase out fossil fuels, a different group of people are going to be making money, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re fighting tooth and nail.”

I’m as guilty as anyone of narrowing my focus at times and missing the big picture. But the big picture is huge and often difficult to grasp, and it’s good to be reminded that it’s not conspiratorial to think know that some people with means count on this, too, as just another tool in the pouch. Remind yourself that it takes some work to stay informed, that the 1st amendment is a kind of cautionary note, freedom in reverse – not to do nothing, but a responsibility to do more. Way more. Just to find out what you need to know. Especially when we’re as peopled with highly motivated oligarchs as we are. Besides the many other things they are, the Kochs’ activities equal exhibit A for the estate tax. 99.3% at least.

The 2010 Fields Medals were carelessly handed out yesterday, in an utterly random fashion – I think they drew the names out a hat. The only requirements for the controversial prize is that winners are under forty years old and demonstrate some unquestionably innovative mathematical calculation that fundamentally alters our understanding of the world.

Take this winner, for instance, Cedric Villani of France, who calculated the rate at which entropy is increasing – there seems to be some sort of throttle on the rate at which the world is falling apart.

Cedric Villani works in several areas of mathematical physics, and particularly in the rigorous theory of continuum mechanics equations such as the Boltzmann equation.

Imagine a gas consisting of a large number of particles traveling at various velocities. To begin with, let us take a ridiculously oversimplified discrete model and suppose that there are only four distinct velocities that the particles can be in, namely ${v_1, v_2, v_3}$, and ${v_4}$. Let us also make the homogeneity assumption that the distribution of velocities of the gas is independent of the position; then the distribution of the gas at any given time ${t}$ can then be described by four densities ${f(t,v_1), f(t,v_2), f(t,v_3), f(t,v_4)}$ adding up to ${1}$, which describe the proportion of the gas that is currently traveling at velocities ${v_1}$, etc..

If there were no collisions between the particles that could transfer velocity from one particle to another, then all the quantities ${f(t,v_i)}$ would be constant in time: ${\frac{\partial}{\partial t} f(t,v_i) = 0}$. But suppose that there is a collision reaction that can take two particles traveling at velocities ${v_1, v_2}$ and change their velocities to ${v_3, v_4}$, or vice versa, and that no other collision reactions are possible. Making the heuristic assumption that different particles are distributed more or less independently in space for the purposes of computing the rate of collision, the rate at which the former type of collision occurs will be proportional to ${f(t,v_1) f(t,v_2)}$, while the rate at which the latter type of collision occurs is proportional to ${f(t,v_3) f(t,v_4)}$. This leads to equations of motion such as

$\displaystyle \frac{\partial}{\partial t} f(t,v_1) = \kappa ( f(t,v_3) f(t,v_4) - f(t,v_1) f(t,v_2) )$

for some rate constant ${\kappa > 0}$, and similarly for ${f(t,v_2)}$${f(t,v_3)}$, and ${f(t,v_4)}$. It is interesting to note that even in this simplified model, we see the emergence of an “arrow of time”: the rate of a collision is determined by the density of the initialvelocities rather than the final ones, and so the system is not time reversible, despite being a statistical limit of a time-reversible collision from the velocities ${v_1,v_2}$ to ${v_3,v_4}$ and vice versa.

To take a less ridiculously oversimplified model, now suppose that particles can take a continuum of velocities, but we still make the homogeneity assumption the velocity distribution is still independent of position, so that the state is now described by a density function ${f(t,v)}$, with ${v}$ now ranging continuously over ${{\bf R}^3}$. There are now a continuum of possible collisions, in which two particles of initial velocity ${v', v'_*}$ (say) collide and emerge with velocities ${v, v_*}$. If we assume purely elastic collisions between particles of identical mass ${m}$, then we have the law of conservation of momentum

$\displaystyle mv' + mv'_* = mv + mv_*$

and conservation of energy

$\displaystyle \frac{1}{2} m |v'|^2 + \frac{1}{2} m |v'_*|^2 = \frac{1}{2} m |v|^2 + \frac{1}{2} m |v'|^2$

some simple Euclidean geometry shows that the pre-collision velocities ${v', v'_*}$ must be related to the post-collision velocities ${v, v_*}$ by the formulae

$\displaystyle v' = \frac{v+v_*}{2} + \frac{|v-v_*|}{2} \sigma; \quad v'_* = \frac{v+v_*}{2} - \frac{|v-v_*|}{2} \sigma \ \ \ \ \ (1)$

for some unit vector ${\sigma \in S^2}$. Thus a collision can be completely described by the post-collision velocities ${v,v_* \in {\bf R}^3}$ and the pre-collision direction vector ${\sigma \in S^2}$; assuming Galilean invariance, the physical features of this collision can in fact be described just using the relative post-collision velocity ${v-v_*}$ and the pre-collision direction vector ${\sigma}$. Using the same independence heuristics used in the four velocities model, we are then led to the equation of motion

$\displaystyle \frac{\partial}{\partial t} f(t,v) = Q(f,f)(t,v)$

where ${Q(f,f)}$ is the quadratic expression

$\displaystyle Q(f,f)(t,v) := \int_{{\bf R}^3} \int_{S^2} (f(t,v') f(t,v'_*) - f(t,v) f(t,v_*)) B(v-v_*,\sigma) dv_* d\sigma$

for some Boltzmann collision kernel ${B(v-v_*,\sigma) > 0}$, which depends on the physical nature of the hard spheres, and needs to be specified as part of the dynamics. Here of course ${v', v'_*}$ are given by (1).

If one now allows the velocity distribution to depend on position ${x \in \Omega}$ in a domain${\Omega \subset {\bf R}^3}$, so that the density function is now ${f(t,x,v)}$, then one has to combine the above equation with a transport equation, leading to the Boltzmann equation

$\displaystyle \frac{\partial}{\partial t} f + v \cdot \nabla_x f = Q(f,f),$

together with some boundary conditions on the spatial boundary ${\partial \Omega}$ that will not be discussed here.

One of the most fundamental facts about this equation is the Boltzmann H theorem, which asserts that (given sufficient regularity and integrability hypotheses on ${f}$, and reasonable boundary conditions), the ${H}$-functional

$\displaystyle H(f)(t) := \int_{{\bf R}^3} \int_\Omega f(t,x,v) \log f(t,x,v)\ dx dv$

is non-increasing in time, with equality if and only if the density function ${f}$ is Gaussian in ${v}$ at each position ${x}$ (but where the mass, mean and variance of the Gaussian distribution being allowed to vary in ${x}$). Such distributions are known asMaxwellian distributions.

From a physical perspective, ${H}$ is the negative of the entropy of the system, so the H theorem is a manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics, which asserts that the entropy of a system is non-decreasing in time, thus clearly demonstrating the “arrow of time” mentioned earlier.

There are considerable technical issues in ensuring that the derivation of the H theorem is actually rigorous for reasonable regularity hypotheses on ${f}$ (and on ${B}$), in large part due to the delicate and somewhat singular nature of “grazing collisions” when the pre-collision and post-collision velocities are very close to each other. Important work was done by Villani and his co-authors on resolving this issue, but this is not the result I want to focus on here. Instead, I want to discuss the long-time behaviour of the Boltzmann equation.

As the ${H}$ functional always decreases until a Maxwellian distribution is attained, it is then reasonable to conjecture that the density function ${f}$ must converge (in some suitable topology) to a Maxwellian distribution. Furthermore, even though the${H}$ theorem allows the Maxwellian distribution to be non-homogeneous in space, the transportation aspects of the Boltzmann equation should serve to homogenise the spatial behaviour, so that the limiting distribution should in fact be a homogeneous Maxwellian. In a remarkable 72-page tour de forceDesvilletes and Villani showed that (under some strong regularity assumptions), this was indeed the case, and furthermore the convergence to the Maxwellian distribution was quite fast, faster than any polynomial rate of decay in fact. Remarkably, this was alarge data result, requiring no perturbative hypotheses on the initial distribution (although a fair amount of regularity was needed). As is usual in PDE, large data results are considerably more difficult due to the lack of perturbative techniques that are initially available; instead, one has to primarily rely on such tools as conservation laws and monotonicity formulae. One of the main tools used here is a quantitative version of the H theorem (also obtained by Villani), but this is not enough; the quantitative bounds on entropy production given by the H theorem involve quantities other than the entropy, for which further equations of motion (or more precisely, differential inequalities on their rate of change) must be found, by means of various inequalities from harmonic analysis and information theory. This ultimately leads to a finite-dimensional system of ordinary differential inequalities that control all the key quantities of interest, which must then be solved to obtain the required convergence.

Gee… talk about your run-of-the-mill finite-dimensional systems of ordinary differential inequalities. I mean, tell us something we don’t know, Monsieur medal winner.

Not to be alarmist but… are we using more electricity than ever?

Sustainable growth? Remember that? Green me. When the mustache of understanding brings up sustainable growth, let’s not forget this part of it. How much electricity we are using, where the 20 million barrels of oil we use per day comes from… this is the new ‘destroying the village in order to save it’: incoherence.

Bonus: what is the appropriate use of alarmism?

*Countries in the graph picked at random. Sweden is eating our per capita lunch for some reason. Electronics?

The Green Blouse, 1919, Pierre Bonnard
“Vermillion in the orange shadows, on a cold, fine day,” Pierre Bonnard wrote in a sketchbook on one of his daily walks near his home, at Le Cannet, north of Cannes. Born in 1867 in a suburb of Paris, he settled in the South of France in 1926 with his reclusive wife, Marthe, remaining until his death in 1947. Such atmospheric observations infused the paintings that dominated the artist’s last three decades: window-framed landscapes and radiant domestic scenes depicting his wife going about her day. “The late interiors give you an understanding of how truly modernist he was,” says Dita Amory, a curator with theMetropolitan Museum of Art in New York, who has organized the first exhibition devoted to these works, opening January 27. “Shadow is never gray or black. It’s violet or purple.”

Bonnard made his mark early as part of the Nabis (”prophets” in Hebrew), the self-named group, including Maurice DenisÉdouard Vuillard and Paul Sérusier, that met at the Académie Julian, in Paris, in the late 1880s and experimented with suppressing perspective by using decorative pattern and flat areas of color. In the first decade of the 20th century, Bonnard struck out on his own. Dividing his time between the city and the country, he painted active street scenes in Paris and worked with professional models. By 1912 — when he bought a small house in Vernonnet, near Giverny, and his life with Marthe became more secluded — he had forged a distinctive technique, using oppositional hues that vibrated across his spatial fields.

NPR has apparently found a very sturdy drum and they’ve been beating it night & day. This Morning’s Edition:

President Obama’s approach to domestic oil drilling has shifted over this year. Taken together, those shifts have managed to anger just about everyone in the oil drilling debate at one time or another.

Great. 100% chance of this, right? What an excellent, safe, can’t miss, no interest news story. Dog bites dog. We’ll trot out an oil industry shill and an officer of the Sierra Club and they’ll light up the night with worry. Think I’m kidding?

“It’s risky, it’s dangerous, and there’s a better way to meet America’s energy needs than to engage in a set of activities that are proven to be unsafe,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

“Why six months? What does that mean?” asks Rayola Dougher, a senior economic adviser for the American Petroleum Institute.

Well, Rayola, part of what it means, if you must know, is that we’ll call off all drilling for six months and try to find out WTF happened to make all the shellfish have a sad when all they were doing was preparing to become food. It (the story) trudges on and on.

But then, this evening, they were striking up the band again. I mean, I only have a ten-minute drive both ways. This time it was workers from the oil industry, including medical personnel living along the Gulf who treat injured workers. It seems that they are all for not having another accident in the Gulf, and even understand some the malformations the industry itself has performed on the wetlands guarding the land and sea from each other. But

The uncertainty has rippled through the oil services industry, and puts some workers in a difficult position as they consider what the moratorium can achieve.

Lavonne Martin of Baton Rouge works for a company that provides offshore medical care.

“As an environmentalist, as a fisherman, as someone who loves our Louisiana coast, I understand it. … However, as somebody who, you know, makes a living working in the oil industry, I’m very concerned about it and what the future … economic impact may be,” Martin says.

The environment and all that… becomes a blur when connected to livelihoods through the paycheck, especially for those so close to the action. There is truth to this and it is painful and complex – the withering of a way of life, and specifically the means for powering it but not just that, is very difficult to separate from the idea that life will continue. Much less how it will. There are no poetic terms for this, not at first. These are only the first hard questions. But the reporting seems to still hold the outcome in the balance, to still pull for business and people who depend on a paycheck (!) to prevail, as if we can sustain a way of life that is being destroyed by our efforts to sustain a way of life. It’s that or nothing so that it must be.

And the preoccupation with uncertainty is… certainly curious. We’ve come to absolutely depend upon some outlandish by its very premise level of confidence in what to expect – or else panic sets in. This type of caution, need for guarantees, this quest for certainty, especially with regard to large scale endeavors, leads eventually in all the wrong directions.

Maybe we should actually embrace uncertainty for a while. Maybe it could mean many of these same people would be as loyal to and hardworking for schemes that weren’t concentrated on a dwindling resource. Who can be sure?

Just think of us as one big glass of Bourbon, into which large chunks of ice keeping falling.

A large — approximately 97-square-mile — chunk of ice broke away from the Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland. This new ice island (as seen in the image above just to the right of center) is the largest iceberg formed in the Arctic since 1962, according to a University of Delaware news release. It’s about 40-percent larger than the District of Columbia.

Or about four times the size of Manhattan, per the NYT. Which makes us about what we are – a big glass of watery well-brand.

Dr. K brings it.

But it’s the audacity of dopes. Mr. Ryan isn’t offering fresh food for thought; he’s serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce.

But that’s just the warm-up act – you don’t have to wonder what Greenwald means:

As we enter our ninth year of the War in Afghanistan with an escalated force, and continue to occupy Iraq indefinitely, and feed an endlessly growing Surveillance State, reports are emerging of the Deficit Commission hard at work planning how to cut Social Security, Medicare, and now even to freeze military pay.  But a new New York Times article today illustrates as vividly as anything else what a collapsing empire looks like, as it profiles just a few of the budget cuts which cities around the country are being forced to make.  This is a sampling of what one finds:

Plenty of businesses and governments furloughed workers this year, but Hawaii went further – it furloughed its schoolchildren. Public schools across the state closed on 17 Fridays during the past school year to save money, giving students the shortest academic year in the nation.

Many transit systems have cut service to make ends meet, but Clayton County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, decided to cut all the way, and shut down its entire public bus system. Its last buses ran on March 31, stranding 8,400 daily riders.

Even public safety has not been immune to the budget ax. In Colorado Springs, the downturn will be remembered, quite literally, as a dark age:the city switched off a third of its 24,512 streetlights to save money on electricity, while trimming its police force and auctioning off its police helicopters.

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