Monthly Archives: February 2018

   To our Podcasts

Gecoordineerde Decarbonisatie van Nederland

Nederland lijkt zich te willen ontworstelen aan zijn fossiele traditie. Het gebruik van aardgas uit Groningen en de kolen overslag in Rotterdam liggen onder vuur. De nieuwe minister van Economische Zaken Eric Wiebes lijkt het te begrijpen, en het is te hopen dat hij de ontwikkeling en financiering van hernieuwbare energie projecten voorspelbaar houdt.

In mijn ogen ontbreekt er iets essentieels in de mix van acties en milestones, en dat is duidelijke coordinatie tussen de afname van fossiel brandstof gebruik en toename van hernieuwbare energie. Als  Rotterdam zich tegen de kolen overslag verzet, wat doet het dan om de downstream behoefte aan kolenstroom te bedienen. Er zijn verschillende redenen waarom dit zo gaat maar het is zeker niet nodig om het zo te laten blijven gaan.

Een reden waarom het fossiele exit pad zo chaotisch wordt gevolgd is dat het ETS (Emissions trading scheme) niet werkt. Al enige jaren geleden is in een rapport geconcludeerd dat de CO2 handel niet het gewenste effect heeft (reductie emissies) en dat er misschien een andere doelstelling moet worden bedacht voor het ETS (geen grap). Er zijn teveel rechten op de markt, CO2 is te goedkoop, het systeem is slechts een werkverschaffer voor de financlele sector.

Een andere reden waarom de aanpak zo chaotisch is is de invloed van banken en industrie in de politiek. Vooral de banken zijn bang voor de gevolgen van gedistribueerde energie productie en afname, aangezien de geldstromen die daarmee gepaard gaan niet via hen hoeven te lopen. Ook de taak van finaniciering van projecten (die meestal dient om de fossiele energie die nodig is aan de deelnemers ter beschikking te stellen) zal op termijn verdwijnen. Hierdoor is onze politiek doorspekt van ‘economische’ optimalisatie, wat frans is voor ‘fossiele cashflow maximalisatie’. Economische winst en krediet zijn dingen die we niet kunnen respecteren als we afscheid willen nemen van het fossiele tijdperk.

Nog een reden voor de chaos is de aard van de politiek, de zeldzame burger die zijn comfort zone verlaat en niet door zijn omgeving is teruggefloten of door een goed gesponsorde carriere politicus is verslagen is meestal nog niet georganiseerd op een manier die zijn denkbeelden ondersteunt. Je kunt bv. lid worden van de VVD, maar dan weet je dat je eerst jaren fossiele lakei moet zijn, waardoor je later geen scrupules zult hebben om je zakken te vullen waar het kan. Dit is echter geen monopolie van de VVD, de nederlandse politiek zit vol mensen die het een prima salaris vinden voor licht werk.

Intussen is het overduidelijk dat er een formule te bedenken is die zegt dat als je hier gas weghaald je daar energie toe moet voegen. Dat als  je kolen centrales sluit je zonnecentrales moet openen. Dat zonnecentrales energie kosten om te bouwen en dat je dus een bepaalde hoeveelheid fossiele energie nodig hebt om deze in feite te vermenigvuldigen met een factor 6 (zonnepanelen). Dit is een plannings geoorienteerde aanpak van de transitie, niet een ‘vrije markt’ georienteerde aanpak.

Natuurlijk krijg je als je van een geplande transitie spreekt (niet een met politieke doelen maar met als doelstelling te maximalisatie van hernieuwbare energie en de minimalisatie van fossiel op zo kort mogelijke termijn) rechtse pro-fossiele politici over je heen die je beschuldigen van communisme, socialisme en alles waar oude kiezers bang voor zijn. Of course. Maar pro fossiel rechts is dan ook de vijand van al het leven op aarde momenteel, en dit is geen overdreven uitspraak. Wie wil weten wie debet zal zijn aan onnoemelijk lijden voor onnoemelijk veel zielen in de komende decennia moet naar rechts kijken, want daar wordt het fossiel economische belang en dat van de fossiele distributeurs in de financieele sector boven het welzijn van de andere burgers geplaatst.

Als we de maatschappij verdelen in hen die voor een (overigens veel welvarender) hernieuwbare toekomst zijn en hen die hier tegen zijn dan kunnen er twee groepen ontstaan waarvan de ene vol op de transitie kan inzetten en de andere door zijn elitaire basis snel het onderspit delft. Pro hernieuwbaar of niet? Elke politicus moet kleur bekennen, niet op mensen stemmen die wauwelen over economische groei en banen. Elk bedrijf zal banen creeren en moeten opgeven, waaronder banken en wind turbine fabrikanten. Wie meer banen wil moet zorgen dat de energie en grondstoffen om die baan mogelijk te maken er zijn, en dat kan beter en goedkoper met duurzame energie dan met fossiel.

Als elke gemeente een som kan maken van de fossiele energie die ze verbruiken en wat er nodig is om die te vervangen, en er een markt kan worden gecreerd om deze vervanging te realiseren, dan kan in een soort algemene ruilverkaveling de transitie zeer doelmatig worden gerealiseerd. Natuurlijk zijn er activiteiten die Nederland nu ontplooit die na de transitie niet meer nodig zijn, bv. de kolen overslag in Rotterdam, het treinvervoer naar de centrales. Dat lijkt economisch verlies, maar het is geen verlies van welvaart.

 

 

   To our Podcasts

How to beat Global Warming if you have Nothing

For years we have tried to alert people to the dangers of a post peak oil climate fight, meaning the task of fighting climate change with very little productive resources, because the oil distribution system has more or less collapsed. Our current attempt to respond to global warming within the economy is just inviting this situation to come about, because the economy as a whole will do 90% by wasting fossil fuel and maybe 10% of the fuel will be turned in to renewable sources that multiply the fossil input by a factor 6 or more. The economy is the problem it can not be part of the solution.

If it is possible to cordon off resources to fight climate change from the fossil fuel pool this would be fine, it would not take any money, only the resolve of politics, and it would cost banks a dear sum of lost profit from fossil fuel cashflow. Banks have to be overruled by politics, and this is hard in our modern corrupt political systems.

If there is no way to win from the banking/fossil fuel cartel there are still ways to win the climate fight, but these have to be minimally resource dependent. They will be labour intensive no doubt. We don’t know all of them but it seems a good idea to start thinking of them.

Trees

Easiest of them all is planting trees. Even though it is said that trees are darker and can warm up our atmosphere it is still better in the long term to do it, but it needs to be done with no economical objective. We believe that closely planted trees are a better strategy than planting trees at wide distances, because of the shade and micro climate trees can create. Colder air stays down, and this way water can be retained in the soil that would otherwise evaporate.

There’s quite a lot of land mass that is unpopulated, unused for farming and still able to sustain trees, and these should be planted aggressively.

Hydrologic interventions

On land the run of rain and flood water can be changed so that water is stored underground and doesn’t flow away to the oceans. This can be done also by freezing water with ambient air as is done in the Himalayan mountains. We have written here about contour trenching, done to allow flood water to sink into the soil instead of washing over it. This is a great way to improve ground water levels, which can then drive tree growth.

We think that above ground storage of floodwater either within walls or plastic containers can also work. The barriers that hold 1 meter of water do not need to be extremely strong, yet the total volume held that way can be very large.

We think that heating sand using solar energy can enable the building of water retention and distribution structures without the need for heavy  material logistics.

We think that well drilled in regions with aquifers (which also occur in f.i. the Sahara desert) can be an enabler of afforestation projects that can in turn change the regional temperatures.

We think that flooding salt flats with ocean water is a good way to increase humidity, even though this can also have a negative effect in regions that will become to hot to survive in. This can include digging canals or waterways.

Ocean Nutrition and Oxygen

Oceans can be a great CO2 sink, but currently they are actually losing that function because of too much CO2. The changes in PH are bad for plant life, such that the more acid the oceans get, the less it can remove it from the atmosphere. Also the warming of ocean water makes them less able to retian gasses like CO2 and O2. All these factors are moving our oceans to catastrophic release of gasses, methane, their death and ultimately their role as a source of toxic H2S.

To fight this we need to use all the potential available. We can perhaps use underwater obstructions to drive deep ocean water to the surface, where its nutrients (from which the top layer is usally depleted) can allow plant growth. Japan has experimented with this with success. As long as the ocean currents exist (They will stop once the oceans are more uniform in temperature) they can be used to enable carbon capture. Ocean life has a tendency to lose carbon which will sink to the bottom. There it can remain in an anoxic environment, so carbon can actually be stored.

We think covering large parts of the ocean with white plastic to reflect sunlight may help keep our planet cool. This sounds like a costly solution but there is a lot of plastic out there, so barges that process it and turn it into floating albedo shields may be a good idea.

We also have written here about the possibility of floating farms, floating on bamboo rafts. Of course recycled plastic rafts can help. Such farms can grow fish, Kelp, seaweed, algae, but also land crops once they reach sufficient height. We would like to see countries like the Phillipines investigate this option as they have a large undersea undeep shelve they can havest from.

A german study calculated the option of increasing algae growth using deep ocean nutrients using wave driven pumps to get the water to the surface. This would cool the air, lead to more growth of plants on land and have a 10% annual carbon reduction impact if continued as long as needed.

It may be possible to use salt to create a highly reflexive surface that can be floated on sea or laid down on land. It seems vitaly important to slow down warming of Arctic ocean waters and Russian permafrost. In agriculture white plastic is used to cover vast areas of land, and this may be a good way to keep the permafrost cool, and the escaping methane may be captured and used in the process of covering.

 

 

 

   To our Podcasts

The Theat of AI

Artificial intelligence is rapidly converging on what we would consider human intelligence. For some researchers I would consider that goal to have been reached, but the AI not having been able to show it for lack of ability to gather experiences, or being motivated to do so. Bostom Dynamics is the company that demonstrates ARGO, Autonomous, Robust Goal Orientation, my definition of what intelligence is. It’s robots struggle to open doors and succeed even when perturbed by (in this case) one of its minders.

It is not the robot that we should worry about, it is the dynamic system of outcome prediction and choice of action that guides its actions, in real time. That is where the AI ‘lives’, and its functionality is not bound to the robot embodyment. Provided the inputs are true, or at least relevant in the domain the AI has to operate in, the AI can learn and find its way towards a set goal and set secondary goals we have not instructed it to persue. As a former artificial intelligence researcher I can imagine how this functionality is achieved.

The threat is not from the AI, but from those that will use the AI as a tool, because that’s the most logical first step for anyone working on AI, or anyone looking at the AI research community to pick a winner and put him/her to work. The fist thing one would do if it is possible to gain wealth using AI is to consolidate one’s position of autonomy. Robustness, which is part of intelligence, is sought by humans in most situations, and the AI instructed by a human can help achieve it. This is not science fiction right now, it is probably reality under the radar.

You may think that an AI can’t do much harm, but just think of AI as water for a search dog for a moment, one that can be trained to find something or get some place. It has to be set up such that it both can ‘imagine’ a path forward and determine its succes. That path forward can be gaining access to a computer network, or guiding a drone into a building. It can also be gaining a specific response from a person through online contact. Humans that mind the AI will try to enable it to use tools and means to achieve it’s goals, and the AI itself can at a certain point enable itself.

“Tech companies should stop pretending AI won’t destroy jobs”

Because of the probable nature of dangerous AI it will be constantly motivated to achieve it’s goals. It will never stop ‘thinking’ towards it and ‘wanting’ to try a promising approach. The effect of this is easy to monitor when it is a real life robot, but harder so when it world the AI tries to navigate is mostly online. Online can also mean using voice and listening to spoken words through telephone connections, as human speech can be generated to a fidelity that humans can no longer recognize as artificial already today.

An AI ‘imagining’ a goal may be able to create an image and present this to people it thinks it can learn to control. This sounds more and more like science fiction but it really is only steps away from where we are today, and it won’t require immense computing power. Intelligence doesn’t have to be super human to be dangerous, consider humans have immense moral restraint. If you want to see what AI will do without any moral restraint just look at war zones or desperate regions, how people behave if they have given up protecting other people from harm.

 

 

 

   To our Podcasts

Cape Town Water Shortage Demands New Solutions

Cape town is running out of water, nearly half a million residents will be struggling to drink and keep clean. The government has been asking people who travel there to bring some water (even those traveling by air, which must make the worst response to climate change related drought possible). Cape Town is a good model for a place that is not extremely rich but has to deal with the consequences of our fossil fuel habit.


This image from this article actually hints at the solution.

What do you do? You have to get water somewhere. South Africa has been jeopardizing its water supplies by allowing fracking, but if you have a well you can pump up the water (that’s what’s happening already) and the biggest challenge is to get it into the cities. We wrote about roadbots here, and we believe there is a business case for autonomous water carrying vehicles.

If we are scientific about it the prospects are extremely grim for humanity. The planet will heat up faster than we expect or can respond to. Methane will be added as a greenhouse gas in massive quantities, and it is a compound that stays around for too long. We need rapid action on negative emissions or carbon capture, and we can’t use any other source of energy to do that than solar or wind (although nuclear and geothermal are options).

We would suggest to develop the cheapest form of ocean water desalination, which in our opinion is the ionic kind (using charged membranes to separate the salts), which can also be solar driven. If the source of energy for desalination is solar, efficiency can be less than perfect. Also if the material requirements are such that less energy is expended, this means reverse osmosis is out as this requires energy intensive parts and lots of energy to run.

The transportation of water into the heart of dry land is usefull if it is used to irrigate trees that bring shade. There are ways to minimize water usage during the hardest part of a young trees life. We think that dense planting is a good way to create forrests that will remain moist enough to survive. Autonomous vehicles can be used where humans are too costly.