Negative Energy Pricing Becoming More Common as Clean Energy Outdoes Fossil Fuels

Imagine living in a world where one of the most significant threats in the decades ahead is for the most part not being properly addressed, and is in many ways being exacerbated. The threat is climate change, and for one thing, it’s being exacerbated by having massive fossil fuel subsidies instead of massive clean energy subsidies. This is of course despite clean energy already regularly outcompeting fossil fuels.

Bright and breezy days are becoming a deeper nightmare for utilities struggling to earn a return on traditional power plants.

With wind and solar farms sprouting up in more areas — and their power getting priority to feed into the grid in many places — the amount of electricity being generated is outstripping demand during certain hours of the day.

The result: power prices are slipping to zero or even below more often in more jurisdictions.

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Periods with negative prices occur when there is more supply than demand, typically during a mid-day sun burst or early morning wind gust when demand is already low. A negative price is essentially a market signal telling utilities to shut down certain power plants. It doesn’t result in anyone getting a refund on bills — or in electric meters running backward.

Instead, it often prompts owners of traditional coal and gas plants to shut down production for a period even though many of the facilities aren’t designed to switch on and off quickly. It’s left the utilities complaining that they can’t earn the returns they expected for their investment in generation capacity.

Even Minor Dehydration Can Make Thinking More Difficult

If climate change leads to increased temperatures throughout the world, people will sweat off water faster, meaning that they will become dehydrated more quickly. This has clear implications for possibly reducing the average level of decision making among humans.

If you’re finding it hard to get your thoughts straight, dehydration could be to blame. An analysis of previous research has found a link between dehydration and poor performance in tasks that need serious focus or advanced mental processing.

While we know that staying hydrated is good for us for all kinds of reasons, this new meta-study was designed to take a closer look at exactly which brain processes might be affected and at what level of dehydration.

It turns out that at just a 2 percent level of body mass loss due to dehydration – so losing about a litre of water through sweat – the mental imbalance starts. That underlines how crucial it is for us to keep up our water intake, and how damaging it might be to the mental agility we all rely on if we don’t.

“We find that when people are mildly dehydrated they really don’t do as well on tasks that require complex processing or on tasks that require a lot of their attention,” lead researcher Mindy Millard-Stafford, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, told Allison Aubrey at NPR.

Millard-Stafford and her colleague Matthew Wittbrodt looked at 33 previous studies linking dehydration with mental performance. In total, the studies covered a total of 413 individuals experiencing between 1 percent and 6 percent of body mass loss through dehydration.

That 2 percent point seems to be the tipping point when it comes to staying mentally sharp. According to the experts, it would maybe take an hour’s hike to get to that level.

What’s more, it’s a level of dehydration that we might not actually notice through triggers like increased thirst: so mental performance could decline even when we don’t feel like we need to take on any water.

The analysis backs up previous research suggesting that dehydration impairs some mental processes more than others, with attention, executive function, and motor coordination particularly hard hit. Lower-level tasks like reaction time aren’t as badly affected, the meta-study shows.

While it’s different for every individual, experts recommend that women get up to 2.7 litres or 95 fluid ounces (11.5 cups) of water every day, and men up to 3.7 litres or 130 fluid ounces (15.5 cups).

The body as a whole is 60 percent water, which it leverages for jobs like transporting nutrients around the body and lubricating our eyeballs.

When there isn’t enough water available – it’s regularly lost through sweating and urination – these vital functions start to break down. We become thirsty, start to feel nauseous, and become more likely to feel exhausted.

Insightful Noam Chomsky Interviews

Much of importance is worth noting here.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: I do think that the way that we won in New York 14 is a model for how we can win almost anywhere. I knew from the outset that—you know, I had no misconceptions of the fact that the New York political machine was not going to be doing me any favors. And so I didn’t—I tried to kind of come in as clear-eyed as possible. And I knew that if we were going to win, the way that progressives win on an unapologetic message is by expanding the electorate. That’s the only way that we can win strategically. It’s not by rushing to the center. It’s not by trying to win spending all of our energy winning over those who have other opinions. It’s by expanding the electorate, speaking to those that feel disenchanted, dejected, cynical about our politics, and letting them know that we’re fighting for them.

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AMY GOODMAN: And the issues you ran on?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: And the issues I ran on were very clear, and I think it was an important part to us winning: improved and expanded Medicare for all; tuition-free public colleges and universities, as well as trade schools; a Green New Deal; justice for Puerto Rico; an unapologetic platform of criminal justice reform and ending the war on drugs; and also speaking truth to power and speaking about money in politics not just in general, but how it operates in New York City.

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NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think there’s—her victory was a quite spectacular and significant event. I think what it points to is a split in the Democratic Party between the—roughly speaking, between the popular base and the party managers. The popular base is increasingly, essentially, social democratic, following, pursuing the—concerned with the kinds of progressive objectives that she outlined in those—in her remarks, which should be directed not only to expanding the electorate but to the general working-class, poor population of the world, of the middle-class population of the country, for whom these ideals are quite significant. They can be brought to that.

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I think she was right in saying that the policies she’s outlined should have broad appeal to a very large segment of the population. We should bear in mind that, for now almost 40 years, since the neoliberal assault began, taking off with Reagan, on from there, a large majority of the population are living in conditions of stagnation or decline. Real wages are—for, say, male real wages—are about what they were in the 1960s. It’s been—there has been productivity growth. Hasn’t gone to working people. It’s gone into the very few extremely overstuffed pockets.

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Notice, as everybody’s well aware, the tax scam was a purposeful effort not only to enrich the super-rich and the corporate sector—corporate profits, of course, are overflowing—but it was also an effort to sharply increase the deficit, which can be used—and Paul Ryan and others kindly announced to us right away what the plans were—the deficit could be used to undermine any elements of government structure which benefit the general population—Medicare, Social Security, food for poor children. Anything you can do to shaft the general population more can now be justified under the argument that we have a huge deficit, thanks to stuffing the pockets of the rich. This is an astonishing phenomenon. And under those conditions, a properly designed progressive program should appeal to a large majority of the population. But it has to be done correctly and not shaped in ways which will appease the donor class.

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We should be considering why people are fleeing from their homes. Not because they want to live in slums in New York. They’re fleeing from their homes because their homes are unlivable, and they’re unlivable, largely, because of things that we have done. Overwhelmingly, that’s the reason. That tells you right away what the solution to the crisis is: rebuild what we’ve destroyed, compensate for the atrocities that we’ve carried out. Then the flow of refugees will decline. And for those who come with asylum pleas, they should be accommodated in a humane and civilized way. Maybe it’s impossible to imagine that we can reach the level of civilization of the poor countries that are absorbing refugees.

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AMY GOODMAN: Federal officials say 711 children remain separated from their parents, despite Thursday’s court-imposed deadline for the Trump administration to reunite all migrate children separated from their parents by immigration officials at the border. More than 400 of the children have parents who have already been deported from the United States.

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NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it’s a major scandal, of course, and properly condemned throughout the world. Taking children away from their parents, sending them off somewhere, losing track of them, you know, it’s hard to think of a more brutal and sadistic policy.

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You’ll notice there’s one—there’s two countries in the region from which there haven’t been refugee flows. One is Costa Rica, which happens to be the one country that sort of functions, and not by accident, the one country that the United States has not—in which the United States does not intervene militarily to overthrow the government and run a military regime. The other is Nicaragua, which differed, which also suffered severely in the 1980s from Reagan’s assaults. But Nicaragua was unlike the other countries of the region: It had an army to defend it. In the other countries, the army were the terrorists. In Nicaragua, the army could, to some extent, defend the population from Reagan’s terrorist forces. And though there’s plenty of problems in Nicaragua, it hasn’t been the source of refugee flow.

So, essentially, what President Trump is saying is, we’ll destroy your countries, slaughter you, impose brutal regimes, but if you try to get out, you’re not going to come here, because America is full.

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NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, my frank opinion is that—I must say I don’t pay much attention to television, so I don’t know a great deal about it. But, in general, I think the media—first of all, Fox News is, by now, basically a joke. It’s, as you said, state media. The other media, I think, are focusing on issues which are pretty marginal. There are much more serious issues that are being put to the side. So, the worst of—even on the case of immigration, once again, I think the real question is dealing with the roots of immigration, our responsibility for it, and what we can do to overcome that. And that’s almost never discussed. But I think that’s the crucial issue. And I think we find the same across the board.

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NOAM CHOMSKY: Trump has basically one principle: me first. That’s almost all of his policies, and wild statements and so on are perfectly well explicable within—under the assumption that that’s what’s driving him. Now, that—crucially, for him, he has to ensure that the Mueller investigation is discredited. Whatever they come up with, if it implicates him in any way, the way the media and political culture function, that will be considered of enormous significance, much more significance than his pursuing policies on the environment which may destroy human civilization.

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NOAM CHOMSKY: We can’t overemphasize the fact that we’re in a unique moment of human history. In fact, we have been, ever since 1945. In 1945, human history changed dramatically. In August 1945, humans demonstrated that their vaunted intelligence had created a means to destroy life on Earth. Didn’t quite have it yet at that point, but it was obvious that it was going to extend and expand, as it in fact did.

A couple of years later, 1947, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists established its famous Doomsday Clock. How far are we from midnight, terminal disaster? It was set at seven minutes to midnight. It once reached two minutes to midnight, 1953, when the U.S. and then the Soviet Union detonated thermonuclear weapons, which do have the capacity to essentially destroy life. Then it’s oscillated variously. It’s now back at two minutes to midnight—with an addition.

It was not known in 1945 that we were not only entering the nuclear age, but entering a new geological epoch, what geologists call the Anthropocene, an epoch in which human activity is having severe and deleterious effects on the environment in which human and other life can survive. We also entered into what’s now called the sixth extinction, a rapid extinction of species, which is comparable to the fifth extinction 65 million years ago when an asteroid, huge asteroid, hit the Earth, we know.

The World Geological Society finally settled on the end of World War II as the onset of the Anthropocene—sharp escalation and destruction of the environment, not only global warming, carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases, but also such things as plastics in the ocean, which are predicted to be greater than the weight of fish in the ocean not far in the future.

Removing C02 from the Atmosphere — Most Efficient Process Yet Found

With climate change’s dangers looming, it would be sensible for more people to try to lower the cost of direct air capture demonstrated here. Estimating that humans put 50 billion tons of C02 in the atmosphere every year, with the cost of removing one ton of C02 being at maybe $100, it would cost approximately $5 trillion (5-6% of world GDP) a year to offset the new C02 being added yearly. It isn’t clear to me how much value would be able to be generated by the tons of C02 captured, but I am aware that there are good catalysts for recycling C02 into valuable chemicals available.

Even so, it’s troubling that governments around the world don’t join forces to reduce the costs of this direct air capture and contribute money towards using it more. Eventually, my guess is that something similar to this technology is going to have be used much, more in the future. I don’t think humanity is moving fast enough to ditch fossil fuels for clean energy, and the next ten years are going to be especially crucial in what happens with climate change. The problem with C02 removal is going to continue to revolve around the high cost to do it though — if the cost could be further lowered significantly, much of the warming this century could be prevented.

By removing emitted carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into fresh fuels, engineers at a Canadian firm have demonstrated a scalable and cost-effective way to make deep cuts in the carbon footprint of transportation with minimal disruption to existing vehicles. Their work appears June 7 in the journal Joule.

“The carbon dioxide generated via direct air capture can be combined with sequestration for carbon removal, or it can enable the production of carbon-neutral hydrocarbons, which is a way to take low-cost carbon-free power sources like solar or wind and channel them into fuels that can be used to decarbonize the transportation sector,” says lead author David Keith, founder and chief scientist of Carbon Engineering, a Canadian CO2-capture and clean fuels enterprise, and a professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard University.

Direct air capture technology works almost exactly like it sounds. Giant fans draw ambient air into contact with an aqueous solution that picks out and traps carbon dioxide. Through heating and a handful of familiar chemical reactions, that same carbon dioxide is re-extracted and ready for further use — as a carbon source for making valuable chemicals like fuels, or for storage via a sequestration strategy of choice. It’s not just theory — Carbon Engineering’s facility in British Columbia is already achieving both CO2capture and fuel generation.

The idea of direct air capture is hardly new, but the successful implementation of a scalable and cost-effective working pilot plant is. After conducting a full process analysis and crunching the numbers, Keith and his colleagues claim that realizing direct air capture on an impactful scale will cost roughly $94-$232 per ton of carbon dioxide captured, which is on the low end of estimates that have ranged up to $1,000 per ton in theoretical analyses.

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Centuries of unchecked human carbon emissions also mean that atmospheric carbon dioxide is a virtually unlimited feedstock for transformation into new fuels. “We are not going to run out of air anytime soon,” adds Steve Oldham, CEO of Carbon Engineering. “We can keep collecting carbon dioxide with direct air capture, keep adding hydrogen generation and fuel synthesis, and keep reducing emissions through this AIR TO FUELSTM pathway.”

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“After 100 person-years of practical engineering and cost analysis, we can confidently say that while air capture is not some magical cheap solution, it is a viable and buildable technology for producing carbon-neutral fuels in the immediate future and for removing carbon in the long run,” says Keith.

Scientists Discover How a Giant Release of Carbon Dioxide Triggered a Mass Extinction of Ancient Marine Organisms

It’s a parallel comparison to what’s happening to this world, what with the record levels of carbon dioxide being amassed today and all. I’ve understood for years that climate change was a significant threat, but as more is discovered, it’s turning out to be a far more significant problem than I ever imagined.

Global climate change, fueled by skyrocketing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, is siphoning oxygen from today’s oceans at an alarming pace — so fast that scientists aren’t entirely sure how the planet will respond.

Their only hint? Look to the past.

In a study to be published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Florida State University did just that — and what they found brings into stark relief the disastrous effects a deoxygenated ocean could have on marine life.

Millions of years ago, scientists discovered, powerful volcanoes pumped Earth’s atmosphere full of carbon dioxide, draining the oceans of oxygen and driving a mass extinction of marine organisms.

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“We wanted to reconstruct Early Jurassic ocean oxygen levels to better understand the mass extinction and the T-OAE,” said Theodore Them, a postdoctoral researcher at FSU who led the study. “We used to think of ocean temperature and acidification as a one-two punch, but more recently we’ve learned this third variable, oxygen change, is equally important.”

By analyzing the thallium isotope composition of ancient rocks from North America and Europe, the team found that ocean oxygen began to deplete well before the defined time interval traditionally ascribed to the T-OAE.

That initial deoxygenation, researchers say, was precipitated by massive episodes of volcanic activity — a process not altogether unlike the industrial emission of carbon dioxide we’re familiar with today.

“Over the past 50 years, we’ve seen that a significant amount of oxygen has been lost from our modern oceans,” Them said. “While the timescales are different, past volcanism and carbon dioxide increases could very well be an analog for present events.”

When the atmosphere is suffused with carbon dioxide, global temperatures climb, triggering a cascade of hydrological, biological and chemical events that conspire to sap the oceans of oxygen.

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“It’s extremely important to study these past events,” Them said. “It seems that no matter what event we observe in Earth’s history, when we see carbon dioxide concentrations increasing rapidly, the result tends to be very similar: a major or mass extinction event. This is another situation where we can unequivocally link widespread oceanic deoxygenation to a mass extinction.”

Steps can still be taken to curb oxygen loss in the modern oceans. For example, conserving important wetlands and estuaries — along with other environments that absorb and store large amounts of carbon dioxide — could help to blunt the effects of harmful industrial emissions.

The Potential Carbon Bubble of the Future — Possibly Immense Damage to the Global Economy If It Bursts

Another reason to switch to renewable energy as quickly as possible. Bubbles can drive economies forward and actually produce some positive results (which was seen with the investment boom from the stock bubble in the 1990s in the U.S.) due to the increase in the wealth effect generating more demand, but if that demand isn’t compensated for with the burst of large bubbles, recessions happen. There is today a tremendous amount of wealth directly because of fossil fuels, and if that wealth sharply drops in value and isn’t replaced, there might be a shock to the world economy.

Several major economies rely heavily on fossil-fuel production and exports. The price of fossil-fuel companies’ shares is calculated under the assumption that all fossil-fuel reserves will be consumed. But to do so would be inconsistent with the tight carbon budget set in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which limits the increase in global average temperature to ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels’. So far, this prospect has not deterred continuing investment in fossil fuels because many believe that climate policies will not be adopted, or at least not in the near future.

However, and crucially, researchers now show that ongoing technological change, by itself and even without new climate policies, is already reducing global demand growth for fossil fuels, which could peak in the near future. New climate policies would only aggravate the impact. Continuing investment in fossil fuels is therefore creating a dangerous ‘carbon bubble’ that could burst, with massive economic and geopolitical consequences.

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The scientists conclude that further economic damage from a potential bubble burst could be avoided by decarbonising early. “Divestment is a prudential thing to do. We should be carefully looking at where we are investing our money.”

Economic Models Are Underestimating Climate Change Risks

The difference between even a half degrees Celsius of temperature increase can be massive, and there’s new research out regularly that affirms the multitude of problems climate change can cause. “The world is burning” used to be just an expression, but it could become a reality this century with the wildfires and chaos that climate change can cause.

The paper’s authors, Thomas Stoerk of the Environmental Defense Fund, Gernot Wagner of the Harvard University Center for the Environment and Bob Ward of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, draw attention to “mounting evidence that current economic models of the aggregate global impacts of climate change are inadequate in their treatment of uncertainty and grossly underestimate potential future risks.”

They warn that the “integrated assessment models” used by economists “largely ignore the potential for ‘tipping points’ beyond which impacts accelerate, become unstoppable, or become irreversible.” As a result “they inadequately account for the potential damages from climate change, especially at moderate to high levels of warming,” due to rises in global mean temperature of more than 2 Celsius degrees.

The authors draw attention to “a major discrepancy between scientific and economic estimates of the impacts of unmanaged future climate change.” They state: “These discrepancies between the physical and the economic impact estimates are large, and they matter. However, physical impacts are often not translated into monetary terms and they have largely been ignored by climate economists.”