Thursday, November 20, 2014

Renewable energy won’t reverse climate change

Ross Koningstein and David Fork, engineers at Google, write at IEEE Spectrum (excerpts):

At the start of RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists: We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope ...

As we reflected on the project, we came to the conclusion that even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach.

[T]oday’s renewable energy sources are limited by suitable geography and their own intermittent power production. Wind farms, for example, make economic sense only in parts of the country with strong and steady winds. The study also showed continued fossil fuel use in transportation, agriculture, and construction.

RE<C invested in large-scale renewable energy projects and investigated a wide range of innovative technologies .... By 2011, however, it was clear that RE<C would not be able to deliver a technology that could compete economically with coal, and Google officially ended the initiative and shut down the related internal R&D projects. ...

In the energy innovation study’s best-case scenario, rapid advances in renewable energy technology bring down carbon dioxide emissions significantly. Yet because CO₂ lingers in the atmosphere for more than a century, reducing emissions means only that less gas is being added to the existing problem. We decided to combine our energy innovation study’s best-case scenario results with Hansen’s climate model to see whether a 55 percent emission cut by 2050 would bring the world back below that 350-ppm threshold. Our calculations revealed otherwise. Even if every renewable energy technology advanced as quickly as imagined and they were all applied globally, atmospheric CO₂ levels wouldn’t just remain above 350 ppm; they would continue to rise exponentially due to continued fossil fuel use. So our best-case scenario, which was based on our most optimistic forecasts for renewable energy, would still result in severe climate change ...

Suppose for a moment that it had achieved the most extraordinary success possible, and that we had found cheap renewable energy technologies that could gradually replace all the world’s coal plants — a situation roughly equivalent to the energy innovation study’s best-case scenario. Even if that dream had come to pass, it still wouldn’t have solved climate change.

Incremental improvements to existing technologies aren’t enough; we need something truly disruptive to reverse climate change. What, then, is the energy technology that can meet the challenging cost targets? How will we remove CO₂ from the air? We don’t have the answers. Those technologies haven’t been invented yet.

[And then there's methane, with ~25 times the greenhouse gas equivalence of CO₂ and whose reduction would show effect in only a few years. Go vegan, people.]

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Wind Turbines and Health: A Critical Review of a Critical Review of the Scientific Literature

J Occup Environ Med. 2014 Nov;56(11):e108-30. Robert J. McCunney, MD, MPH, Kenneth A. Mundt, PhD, W. David Colby, MD, Robert Dobie, MD, Kenneth Kaliski, BE, PE, and Mark Blais, PsyD

Objective: This review examines the literature related to health effects of wind turbines. Methods: We reviewed literature related to sound measurements near turbines, epidemiological and experimental studies, and factors associated with annoyance. Results: (1) Infrasound sound near wind turbines does not exceed audibility thresholds. (2) Epidemiological studies have shown associations between living near wind turbines and annoyance. (3) Infrasound and low-frequency sound do not present unique health risks. (4) Annoyance seems more strongly related to individual characteristics than noise from turbines. Discussion: Further areas of inquiry include enhanced noise characterization, analysis of predicted noise values contrasted with measured levels postinstallation, longitudinal assessments of health pre- and postinstallation, experimental studies in which subjects are “blinded” to the presence or absence of infrasound, and enhanced measurement techniques to evaluate annoyance.

“The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) funded this project ....” McCunney and Colby had already prepared a similar review for the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations (which are industry lobby groups) in 2009.

The paper consistently implies that the inaudibility of infrasound makes it nonproblematic, but by definition infrasound is inaudible and there is a substantial body of research showing that it is indeed harmful. The review ignores conference papers and so bypasses the issue of measurable infrasound inside homes as well as the unique characteristics of wind turbine noise as presented by many acousticians.

In its assessment of epidemiologic studies, the review rigorously critiques those that correlate wind turbine proximity and health problems while accepting without question those that find no such correlation (for example, a Polish study by industry consultants). In all cases that attempt to correlate complaints with noise levels, the latter are only estimated and characterized as continuous dBA tones. The paper picks out for special praise surveys that set out to prove “psychogenic” causes of health problems, which could not be more biased. This section concludes with a warning against the “mistaking of correlation with causation”, which only underscores the authors’ desperation to dismiss health problems as pre-existing and to ignore the consistent evidence that those health problems disappear when people move away or spend time away from the wind turbines (which they would no doubt only view as evidence that they are indeed psychogenic, as if people willingly suffer physically in their homes but not when they are forced to abandon them). And again, they insist on the quotidian nature of wind turbine noise as being no different from ocean waves or air conditioning, ignoring the ever-growing documentation that it is indeed unique, and uniquely disturbing to many. As with other complaints, the review dismisses sleep disturbance as a fault of the sufferer, not the giant wind turbine thumping away all night. This bias is simply repeated in the next section that examines – and dismisses concerns about – infrasound and low-frequency noise. Again, the paper even denies that any infrasound and/or low-frequency noise (let alone that from wind turbines) can affect health, despite decades of research showing otherwise.

Continuing in this vein, the review of annoyance (a health effect according to the World Health Organization) examines only efforts to show it to be due only to the complainant’s psychology, not actual noise. The review unsurprisingly gives pride of place to the “nocebo” theory that nonsensically blames complaints on the publicity of them.

In its conclusion, the review cites the World Health Organization’s Night Noise Guidelines as a non sequitur vindication that wind turbine noise is not a problem, but fails to note that those guidelines specify an outside limit of 30 dB, which no jurisdiction on earth enforces, let alone regulation of amplitude modulation and infrasound, or even adequate setback distances, all of which the wind power industry fiercely fights (eg). The review itself makes no siting or regulatory recommendations (which might harm the industry paying for this review), instead placing the entire blame for problems on those who suffer them. A shameful performance.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Comments on the Vermont campaign for a carbon tax

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and friends in business and the legislature have proposed a tax on fossil fuels used in heating and transportation, starting at $5 per metric ton (“tonne”) of CO₂ and rising to $50 in 10 years (or $150 in 15 years).

Ninety percent of the revenue would be returned as tax cuts to businesses and households, which would rather nullify the incentive. The concern for reducing the burden on lower-income people is a sham, because getting a tax cut or even rebate in May won’t help to pay for gas or heating oil back in January.

The VPIRG press release trots out hurricane Irene as a warning of future extreme weather due to climate change. That is flat out bullshit. Hurricanes are a normal feature of the weather, and Irene was not even extreme — New Yorkers scoffed at its dissipation. Irene's damage was so great simply because it stalled over the Green Mountains. Climate change — as one part of our general environmental depredation — is a serious issue that is not well served by baseless fear mongering.

Finally, what about the second major greenhouse gas, methane? Besides every one of Vermont’s cows exhaling about 1 tonne of CO₂ per year, each of them also emits methane by belching and farting (not counting that contained in their manure) with a greenhouse gas equivalence of about 7 tonnes of CO₂ per year. With some 150,000 cows in Vermont, that's some serious emissions (1,200,000 tonnes of CO₂ and equivalent: $60 million at the proposed $50/tonne). And ignoring it is a serious omission in any plan claiming to address climate change.

If taxing cows as well as fossil fuel is not an option, how about giving some of the 10% of the revenues earmarked for energy improvements to subsidizing alternatives to animal agriculture. Much like the state makes it cheaper to buy CFLs and LEDs, why not also make it cheaper to buy vegan meat and dairy substitutes?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

James McWilliams telling vegans to eat insects

“At the risk of being a total bore, I have a few more thoughts to shake out on the proposition that vegans are morally obligated to eat insects. ...” —The Life and Death of Insects

Insects As Food: Hard Fact Versus Possible Fact
Are Vegans Obligated To Eat Insects?
Starting Over]

Rucio says:
October 24, 2014 at 8:34 am

You are indeed becoming a total bore here. Everything you argue about insects has already been said about other animals to justify their mass exploitation and slaughter. Even about other humans.

And telling vegans what they are “morally obligated” to do is as offensive coming from another vegan as it is from a grass-fed beef proponent.

James says:
October 24, 2014 at 10:25 am

I’ve offered a number of arguments for why cows and crickets do not deserve the same level of moral consideration. I’m open to having those arguments proven wrong. But you need to do that. Rather than make blanket statements without substantiation, I urge you to avoid insults and make arguments.

Rucio says:
October 24, 2014 at 10:52 am

The argument is simply that cows and crickets DO deserve the same level of moral consideration. That is the vegan ethic. It is not a question of sentience or whatever other anthropocentric rationalization you want to apply.

I really don’t have a problem with anyone eating insects, although I don’t see any good coming from “farming” them. It’s just absurd to suggest that it should be a part of veganism. Your very language in this post has devolved into that of “humane meat” advocates.

(As for insult, you set yourself up for the confirmation.)

James says:
October 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Your logic is circular. To say that a behavior is wrong because it does not adhere to a preexisting definition (in this case, veganism) is to subsume the demand for a real argument (which you still won’t provide) under the guise of a label that may or may not best accomplish the goal that we both seek–to reduce the suffering of animals who can suffer. My argument is that veganism may not be the best approach to reducing the harm humans do to animals. My previous posts on insects have laid out why I think that is the case. Thus, in the interests of having a genuine and fruitful discussion (and possibly getting me to change my mind), you must do more than say, in essence, “veganism does not allow for eating crickets.” I really don’t care about the insult, honestly, so no worries there. But I do care about logic.

Rucio says:
October 24, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Any circularity is in your framing the question as one of “animals who can suffer”. In other words, you’ve already asserted the conclusion in the premise.

Furthermore, if, rather than arguing that veganism may not be the best approach to reducing harm to animals (other than insects), you are attempting to redefine veganism to include eating insects, then the burden is yours.

unethical_and_speciesist_vegan says:
October 24, 2014 at 7:07 pm

“It’s just absurd to suggest that it should be a part of veganism.”

Thankfully deontic vegans don’t get to decide who is and is not vegan. Many utilitarian (see vegan action and vegan outreach position on insects and honey) vegans accept the ambiguity of insects and insect products (shellack, honey, silk etc).

Moreover, many deontic vegans are not at all consistent when it come to their own avoidance of insect “suffering”: honey is verboten but shellack is “don’t ask don’t tell”.

Rucio says:
October 24, 2014 at 10:11 pm

“Vegan” is generally understood to mean no animal flesh or products. It is not a “deontic” or utilitarian or pseudo-religious proposition, but just a simple definition. Nobody’s a perfect vegan, but if everybody’s a vegan by their own definitions, than the word means nothing.

unethical_and_speciesist_vegan says:
October 27, 2014 at 3:42 pm

“Vegan” is generally understood to mean no animal flesh or products.

Generally understood as “NO” by deontic vegans but not by many utilitarian vegans:

“Again, it depends on one’s definition of vegan. Insects are animals, and so insect products, such as honey and silk, are not traditionally considered vegan. Many vegans, however, are not opposed to using insect products, because they do not believe insects are conscious of pain.”

“This may sound odd coming from a co-founder of Vegan Outreach, but it doesn’t matter what label anyone places on me, or what label anyone places on themselves. For example, if Peter Singer (author of Animal Liberation) were to eat a dish that contains hidden dairy when at a colleague’s house, or if Carole Morton (who runs Green Acres Farm Sanctuary and is a humane agent in a rural PA county) were to eat the eggs laid by the hens she has rescued … do I want to cut them off, shun them from our vegan club?”

Rucio says:
October 27, 2014 at 5:11 pm

That’s essentially what I already said. Many vegans fudge the line with invertebrate animals. But asserting that vegans are “morally obligated to eat insects” is a lot more offensive than asserting that they shouldn’t. As I also pointed out earlier, that’s not much different than Alan Savory asserting that we are morally obligated to eat free-range beef to save the planet. Even if his evidence were sound, we are certainly not obligated.

(Regarding evidence, James McW stacks his a bit by ignoring the tremendous land use required for animal agriculture feed. Switching to a vegan diet would reduce that land use to an eighteenth. Whereas farming insects would add a new land use, since it would obviously replace non-insect meat, not plants, in the diet.)

Later post: Consciousness

Rucio says:
November 1, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Moral consideration that relies on the resemblance of a being to oneself would not seem to be very deep.

It may turn a few people away from eating other vertebrate animals, but it’s a shaky foundation to build on. After all, humans easily rationalize brutality towards other humans. The hierarchic ladder of being is an easily manipulated fallacy.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Vermont: Vote Liberty Union!

Liberty Union Party statewide candidates —

Governor: Peter Diamondstone, Brattleboro

Secretary of State: Mary-Alice Herbert, Putney

Attorney General: Rosemarie Jackowski, Bennington

State Treasurer: Virginia Murray Ngoima, Pomfret

Liberty Union Party statewide federal candidate —

House of Representatives: Matthew Andrews, Plainfield

Liberty Union Party local candidates —

State Senate:
Aaron Diamondstone, Marlboro (Windham County)
Jerry Levy, Brattleboro (Windham County)
Ben Bosley, Colchester (Grand Isle County)

Sheriff of Orleans County: Thomas Farrow, Orleans

Assistant Judge, Windham County:
Lynn Russell, Brattleboro
Alice Landsman

Friday, October 17, 2014

Everyone Is a Worker!

From Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? (1968)

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Sorry, your health care coverage can't actually be used.


Subject: Important Information About Your Health Coverage
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2013
To: [ ]@[ ].net

Dear [ ],

Hello! We are writing to let you know that you have a new notice regarding your bill for health care benefits from Vermont Health Connect. To view your notice, please click on the link below and log in to your account.

Your notice is: Premium Invoice

After logging into your account, click on ‘My Account’ and select the ‘My Profile’ tab. Once there, click on ‘View Documents’ from the ‘Quick Links’ box. If you have any questions regarding this notice, please call Vermont Health Connect Customer Support toll-free at 1-855-899-9600, Monday-Friday 8am-8pm and Saturdays 8am-1pm (except holidays and holiday weekends).

Thank you,

Vermont Health Connect


Subject: Re: Important Information About Your Health Coverage
Date: Fri, 06 Dec 2013
From: [ ] <[ ]@[ ].net>

There doesn't appear to be a way to log in. There is a "logout" button, which remains "logout" after clicking it. No "login" button or pane.

In fact, because of the consequent inability to check my account and the lack of reply by telephone [since applying on line], I just sent in a paper application today. Which I guess is now unnecessary as far as setting up an account.

I think I would like a paper notice/statement/bill.



Subject: RE: Important Information About Your Health Coverage
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2013
From: AHS - VT Health Connect
To: '[ ]' <[ ]@[ ].net>

Dear [ ],

Thank you for writing.

To log in to your account, please go to and click on “Start Here” found next to where you see “Are you looking for coverage for yourself or your family?” On the next page, please click either on “Login to your Account” or “Apply Now” as either will bring you to the log-in screen. Once you are logged into your account, you will be able to access your invoice using the directions in your original e-mail.

[Makes sense? Even if you have an account, you have to illogically click "Are you looking for coverage for yourself or your family?" to get to it. But perhaps that was an admission of the truth recorded here.]

As you've requested, we'll send a paper invoice to you in the mail. You can expect to receive this invoice within a week.

Please let us know if we can help you with anything else.

Kind regards,

Vermont Health Connect
Customer Support – 855-899-9600

Check out our website for updated information!

Vermont Health Connect:
YouTube Channel:


Subject: Your Vermont Health Connect Invoice
Date: Tue, 17 Dec 2013
From: Vermont Health Connect
To: [ ] <[ ]@[ ].net>

Dear [ ],

Thank you for completing your application for health insurance coverage through Vermont Health Connect. You may have received two invoices this month – one for your new (2014) Vermont Health Connect health plan, which begins January 1, 2014, and one for your former (2013) health plan, which was recently given the option of extending up to March 31, 2104.

You only need to pay the bill for the plan you wish to have effective on January 1. You do not need to pay the other bill. If you want help making the choice of which bill to pay, please call our Customer Support Center toll-free at 1-855-899-9600 and reference the code “VHC1215.” A customer service representative will then talk you through your options. Please note that our call volume is high at this time. We thank you in advance for your patience. If you applied through a Navigator, you could consult him or her as well.

Please note that you do not need to take any additional steps to cancel your former plan. Your 2013 health plan will automatically expire after you pay your premium and your 2014 plan takes effect.

We are open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays.


Vermont Health Connect Customer Service


Subject: Starting coverage in February
Date: Sat, 11 Jan 2014
From: [ ] <[ ]@[ ].net>

I set up my account and selected a plan very early and received an
invoice by mail (as requested) in December. However, I had already paid
my Catamount Care premium for January, so I did not pay the premium for
the new plan.

Now I need to make sure that I will get another invoice (by mail,
please) for the new plans, to start coverage in February.


Subject: RE: Starting coverage in February
Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2014
From: AHS - VT Health Connect
To: '[ ]' <[ ]@[ ].net>

Dear [ ],

Thank you for writing. We're so sorry for the delay in replying to your email.

I've reviewed your account and see that you also called and spoke with someone about this last week. As they told you, it is fine for you to just pay your premium for February. Your account has been marked so that your policy will start in February.

Please let us know if we can help you with anything else.

Kind regards,

Vermont Health Connect


Subject: Important Information About Your Health Coverage
Date: Wed, 5 Feb 2014
To: [ ]@[ ].net

Dear [ ],

Hello! We are writing to let you know that you have a new notice regarding your bill for health care benefits from Vermont Health Connect. To view your notice, please click on the link below and log in to your account.

Your notice is: Premium Invoice

After logging into your account, click on ‘My Account’ and select the ‘My Profile’ tab. Once there, click on ‘View Documents’ from the ‘Quick Links’ box. If you have any questions regarding this notice, please call Vermont Health Connect Customer Support toll-free at 1-855-899-9600, Monday-Friday 8am-8pm and Saturdays 8am-1pm (except holidays and holiday weekends).

[Steps to view invoice:
• Click "Are you looking for coverage for yourself or your family?"
• Click "Log in"
• Click "My Account"
• Click "My Profile"
• Find the "Quick Links" box and Click "View Documents"
• Click the listed documents until you reveal the current invoice]

Thank you,

Vermont Health Connect


Subject: Re: Starting coverage in February
Date: Mon, 10 Mar 201
From: [ ] <[ ]@[ ].net>
To: AHS - VT Health Connect

Today I received a "Payment past due/Termination Notice" from BCBS [Blue Cross/Blue Shield]. As noted below, this is because I was assured that it was OK to ignore the January premium and that the new policy was to begin in February. This was necessary because the invoice for January coverage under Catamount Care was due (and paid) before the invoice for the new BCBS policy under VHC was available.

According to the BCBS notice, "Vermont Health Connect has reported that full payment has not been received for your health insurance."

Please resolve this.


Subject: RE: Starting coverage in February
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 2014
From: AHS - VT Health Connect
To: '[ ]' <[ ]@[ ].net>

Dear [ ],

Thank you for contacting us. We're very sorry that you received the past due notice from BCBS. I see that you have paid each of your invoices well in advance of the due dates, and as you noted, the fault is entirely ours for not yet making that change to your coverage start date. Unfortunately, we don't have that functionality to make the change once your plan is in force, but we are working on it and will correct your account as soon as we are able.

You actually have a 90 day grace period, so there is no danger of your plan being terminated as long as you keep paying your monthly premiums as you have been doing.

Please let us know if we can be of any further assistance.

Kind regards,

Vermont Health Connect


And so I have been paying the monthly premium to Vermont Health Connect, ignoring the monthly "PAST DUE/NOTICE OF TERMINATION" notices from BCBS.

Secure in the knowledge that we do indeed have continuing "affordable health insurance" (which Vermont was already providing for almost everybody, effectively and without major problems: the "Catamount Care" referred to above). Secure, that is, as long as we would never need it, as it turned out.

I had an annual check-up scheduled in early October and was told by the doctor's office that a check of insurance status revealed it to be "pending". For that reason, they would not be able to submit the bill. I learned from a call to BCBS on Oct. 1 that "pending" in this case meant that I was behind in payments, because they still considered my coverage to have begun on Jan. 1 instead of Feb. 1, and therefore still expected an extra month of payment. In other words, despite the reassurance from Vermont Health Connect 8 months before that "we are working on it and will correct your account as soon as we are able", they still had not. Furthermore, the reassurance that "there is no danger of your plan being terminated as long as you keep paying your monthly premiums as you have been doing" turned out to be meaningless, since my regular doctor wouldn't risk billing to a "pending" insurance account. The person I talked with at BCBS helpfully transfered me to Vermont Health Connect, noting that she had heard that they may be "a few months" behind.

Thank goodness we have not been in any emergency situation or in urgent need of a prescription refill.

From Vermont Health Connect I now (!) learned that changing the start date required a new application because it is a "change of status". And so I was transfered to another office to handle that. The woman there, like everyone I have talked with at every step, it should be said, was very helpful and was able to use the original application to make a new one for coverage starting Feb. 1, ie 8 months earlier, to expire Dec. 31, ie in less than 3 months.

Now we were expected to have "new" insurance active in a couple of weeks, a new card in a week after that. Just in time to start to whole charade over again for coverage next year.

We essentially have had no usable insurance coverage since Feb. 1, despite regularly paying monthly premiums for it. What surprises lie in wait for us in the new cycle beginning Jan. 1, 2015, with a promised automatic renewal of coverage? Or in April, when the IRS recalculates everybody's share of their previous year of premiums?

The faster we move to a single payer system the better! Federally, Medicare was supposed to steadily expand in the 1960s to cover everyone, not just the elderly (but then it would have covered draft dodgers and black panthers along with "deserving" citizens like oneself). If the US government can not or will not provide that very basic service to all those who live within its borders, then the states need to go it alone. And I mean not just setting up some mash-up of federal support and state-provided health coverage, although that would be a welcome step despite the likelihood of its being as dysfunctional as the current private-public mash-up — I mean breaking away altogether from the government of Washington. Because health care is just one of its many failures, and war to gain world hegemony seems to be its only goal, war ordnance its only economy, squandering our common wealth as well as our lives, sacrificing them to an end that can only be catastrophic.

[Update:  Two and a half weeks later, we've received no notice about the "new" coverage, but instead a series of premium invoices (up to 4 so far), each one different from the last and none of them reflecting a resolution.]

[Update:  Four weeks later, we haven't received a new insurance card or any notice about the "new" coverage.]

[Update:  A month later, BCBS remains uninformed of the change, which Vermont Health Connect says was "finalized" on Oct. 14 (under a different "service request" no. than the "confirmation no." originally provided).]

[Update:  Five weeks later, the "change of circumstance center" has promised to notify BCBS today, which was supposed to have been done on Oct. 14 but was not. The reason another 2 weeks was required in the first place was because there is a child on S-CHIP, and that "start of coverage" (despite being continually covered under the auspices of the state for some 13 years already) was not supposed to change from January to February, so a new "change of circumstance" (the only change being the system's, not ours) had to be created to disinclude the S-CHIP part — it was done, but then someone neglected to tell BCBS. Oh, and a new "master case" no. Could it be more complicated? More counterproductive (unless, of course, prevention of care is precisely the intention)?]

[Update:  Five-and-a-half weeks later, BCBS remains uninformed of the change, which the Vermont Health Connect "change center" now says was "finalized" on Oct. 29 and confirmed that it was sent to "billing" who would then notify BCBS, which process could take 15 days, likely more as they are busy starting enrollment for next year. Vermont Health Connect customer service confirms the change, that the start date has been changed, billing reconciled, and BCBS informed. However, BCBS finds no change -- and it's not on the latest weekly confirmation list from Vermont Health Connect, waiting to be processed. BCBS suggests checking in another week.]

[Update:  A month and a half later, the "last invoice for 2014" has arrived, showing a "balance forward" of 10 times the new premium amount, presumably representing the charges for February through November of our "new" coverage, ignoring the year of payments for our "old" coverage for those same months. Then, inexplicably, the amount due adds only the S-CHIP charge, not the next month's premium. Aieee!]

Possibly related posts